European Society for Risk Analysis Annual Conference, ETH Zurich, 18-20 June (2012) (with Marie Valentine-Florin)

Read the first public summary of my report “Preparing for Future Catastrophes

Preparing for Future Catastrophes
International Risk Governance Council Report, February 2013

Executive Summary: Many of the serious problems that we face today follow a similar pattern, where the effects of slow, imperceptible change go unheeded until they bring us to a point of rapid, usually irreversible, and often catastrophic, change. This underlying pattern of slow-developing catastrophic risk (SDCR) may be seen retrospectively in recent bank and  financial system crashes, in revolutionary social changes such as the “Arab Spring”, and in ecosystem collapses such as the desertification of the Aral Sea and large areas of China. Future instances are likely to include the social, economic and ecological effects of biodiversity loss and the dramatic consequences of slow, now probably irreversible, global warming.

Our concerns in this report are:

  • To convey the message that the potential for SDCRs is built into the very fabric of our complex socio-political-economic world, just as it is in the ecosystems of which we are a part, and that their occurrence is inevitable;
  • To address the question of whether SDCRs can be predicted in time to take practical, effective action to avert them;
  • To show that the development of resilient social and economic structures, able to respond and adapt rapidly to sudden change, is the best (and often the only) way to cope effectively with SDCRs; and
  • To outline the new thinking and processes that may be needed in order to develop such resilient structures
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