Risks accompany change and are often accompanied by potential benefits and opportunities. Better risk governance implies enabling societies to benefit from change while minimising the negative consequences of the associated risks. The governance of global, systemic risks requires cohesion between countries and the inclusion within the process of government, industry, academia and civil society.
IRGC has adopted a broad definition relevant to the governance of a wide range of risks: Risk refers to uncertainty about the consequences of an activity or event with respect to something that humans
value. Uncertainty can pertain to the type, likelihood, severity, time or location of these consequences.
Governance refers to the actions, processes, traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised and decisions are taken and implemented. Risk governance applies the principles of good governance to the identification, assessment, management and communication of risks.
IRGC develops concepts and tools for evidence-based risk governance. It addresses key questions such as:
- What is the role of science and technology in risk-related policymaking?
- Do organisations and people at risk understand the hazard and its consequences?
- Do they have the capacity to manage the risk and the resilience to deal with unavoidable consequences?
- What are the secondary impacts of a risk and how is it managed?
- What societal, environmental and economic values affect our willingness to accept the risk?
- To what extent should a precautionary approach be used to address uncertainty and ambiguity?
- How best should one balance an inclusive approach to decision-making with the need to reach a decision?
The challenges of risk governance in the 21st century
Today’s globalised world is characterised by increasing interconnectedness, social networking, and fast-paced technological change, which, in addition to opportunities, also have the potential to increase vulnerabilities and to create new risks with impacts on a much larger scale, and sometimes over a longer timespan.
Because the evolution of governance mechanisms occurs much more slowly than the processes driving technological and social change, there are serious concerns from governments, the private sector, as well as the general public about the lack of governance mechanisms to efficiently deal with risks (such as climate change and biodiversity loss); to resolve trade-offs between diverse, sometimes conflicting, needs and interests (such as those that have encouraged the development of biofuel production); or to deal with potential risks from new technologies in the context of global trade (for example, nanoparticles and food additives).
Policymakers have subsequently become increasingly conscious of the importance of risk communication and of meeting public expectations of risk governance.