IRGC Expert Workshop on the Governance of Slow-Developing Catastrophic Risks

IRGC Expert Workshop on the Governance of Slow-Developing Catastrophic Risks

27-28 June 2013

Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue, Zurich, Switzerland

IRGC organised an expert workshop on the theme of Governance of slow-developing catastrophic risks (SDCRs), to discuss how scientists and policy makers could together improve the governance of this type of risks.  SDCRs are specific to complex, nested systems with multiple interacting feedback loops. While negative feedback contributes to stability, (net) positive feedback may induce runaway effects, eventually reaching a tipping point, so as to trigger phase transitions or regime shifts; the existence of such transitions depends on the nonlinearities of the system. Complexity and noise tend to confound the causes and consequences such that timing and impact of regime shifts become difficult to predict.

The IRGC Concept Note Preparing for Future CatastrophesGovernance principles for slow-developing risks that may have potentially catastrophic consequences » (available here) provided a foundation for the discussions. The Concept Note describes in broad brushstrokes the characteristics of SDCRs together with some mathematical features of associated early warning signs. It further elaborates on the need of both scientific modeling and governance to mitigate the adverse consequences of impending regime shifts. Against this backdrop, the June 2013 workshop emphasized the need for scientific modeling, and consequently how policy can effectively use science as a tool to identify, rationalize, and communicate justifiable choices.

The following questions were discussed:

a) How can we improve policies to deal with slow-developing risks that have the capacity to cause sudden regime shifts or even systemic collapse?

  • Do we know how far science can help?
  • If and when science concludes either with a question or that there is “no evidence of evidence”, how can policy be evidence-based and provide certainty?
  • Are there realistic and fair solutions to managing these types of risks?

b) How to improve mutual understanding between scientists and policymakers?

  • How can policymakers better understand how scientists work?
  • How can scientists better understand how policymakers work?
  • What are the respective interests, constraints, mind-sets and incentives of each community?

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