Slow-developing Catastrophic Risks

Governance principles for slow-developing risks that may have potentially catastrophic consequences

Step 1 (2013) – Preparing for future catastrophes

Following discussions and findings from a workshop organised on 24-26 August 2011 on “slow-developing catastrophic risks” (SDCRs), IRGC published a concept note written by Dr Len Fisher on ‘Preparing for Future Catastrophes’, discussing governance principles for slow-developing risks that may have potentially catastrophic consequences.
The paper introduces to the concept of slow-developing catastrophic risks, provides examples and outlines their key characteristics. It paper looks at the science behind SDCRs and how we handle them. The importance of focusing holistically on the complex adaptive systems/networks forming our societies, economies and ecosystems is emphasised in developing policy advice. The numerous issues and difficulties surrounding governance of SDCRs are also catalogued. The paper concludes with an outline of a framework approach that governments could take in developing more robust risk governance processes.

Elaborating upon the inevitability and predictability of SDCRs, the paper :

  • Conveys the message that the potential for SDCRs to manifest 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: The occurrence of SDCRs is inevitable
  • Addresses the question of whether SDCRs can be predicted in time sufficient to take practical, effective action to avert them
  • Shows 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
  • Outlines that new thinking and processes may be needed in order to develop such resilient structures.

Suggesting that traditional administrative boundaries need to be transcended to deal successfully with SDCRs, the paper defends the value of resilience and presents some political and social strategies to improve the relationship between science and policy.

Step 2 (2015) – Governance of slow-developing catastrophic risks: fostering complex adaptive system and resilience thinking

Slow-Developing Catastrophic Risks refer to risks, the development of which, though hardly discernible at first or by non-experts, may lead to critical transitions (or regime shifts). As a result, SDCRs can have catastrophic consequences in terms of fatalities or economic losses. Because of their non-imminence and uncertain consequences in the case of critical transitions, it is a challenge for policy makers to deal with them effectively. This review paper, written by Dr Anjali Nursimulu, synthesizes the key governance issues for SDCRs identified during two multi-stakeholder workshops, supplemented by literature review of scientific underpinnings and supported by illustrations of real-life SDCRs. The review is organised in three parts, focussing on the evaluation, management, and governance aspects of SDCRs.

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