purpose of Global Risk Progress
is to investigate, analyse and provide assessments to its readers on:
- the current level of threat from global catastrophic risks
- the nature of current action plans of governments and other relevant decision-makers worldwide for building the capacity to
mitigate these risks at the earliest time, and
- the current status of implementation of such action plans, including challenges and opportunities arising.
The assessments are based on a targeted reading of the literature combined
with direct follow-up with decision makers and opinion leaders.
What is a
A global risk
- also called a global
or an existential
is defined as any risk which can destroy civilisation, or worse
- that is, destroy life on Earth or the Earth itself. A well-prepared
planet Earth would have the capacity, if one or more of the risks came about,
to prevent the consequences of the risks occurring.
capacity consists of both infrastructure and capability. Together these would
enable either the prevention of the risk from appearing, or, if a risk were to
arise, the prevention of the consequences.
Our method of analysis
analytical approach is that of standard
evidence-based strategic planning and implementation. For risks, this method
in a nutshell (see here
for a fuller account of the method
and its results in a specific risk field) is to:
A. - seek a full list
- quantify them in terms of the scale of their
impact and the time when they are expected to eventuate
- rank them in terms of scale and time
B. - for the largest
risk, seek potentially suitable actions to prevent the risk
- quantify the
actions in terms of cost
most cost-effective action
C. - repeat this process for all risks
D. - assemble the results
into a plan consisting of the risks ranked in order of importance, the selected
response actions, and timings for implementation
E. - submit the plan to seek (i) approval to proceed and (ii)
allocation of budget. Each of these stages has a number of steps
F. - monitor progress through the steps of the approval
G. - if successful in obtaining approval and budget, proceed
to implement the plan
H. - monitor implementation of the plan, including for conformity
to specification and timeliness
I. - provide
feedback to those implementing the plan, and report more generally on the
results from the monitoring process
to Global Risk Progress
extensive and recognised professional backgrounds
in this field, including initial policy
analysis and development, the evidence-based selection of initiatives, the
implementation of large-scale initiatives, and the subsequent monitoring of
their performance.Contributors' track records
publication in the peer-reviewed literature and recognised
experience in senior public sector roles.
are some points about how we apply the above method to global risks.
We review how currently accepted global risks are characterised,
and provide selected commentary.
the domain of solutions, our work has two components.
first is depicting the current status of each solution. This consists of
tracking the progress of each solution, and identifying apparent drivers of, and
barriers to, progress.
this, for each risk category, we first conduct a worldwide search to identify
the most authoritative plan for building the required mitigation capacity in
the earliest timeframe.
Determining authoritativeness of sources
In line with the concept of
evidence-based policy, we seek action plans to combat global risks based on information (i) derived from the
scientific method (ii) as it is used in risk management, as follows (Hansson,
S, "Risk", The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition),
knowledge begins with data that originate in experiments and other
observations. Through a process of
critical assessment, these data give rise to the scientific corpus. Roughly
speaking, the corpus consists of those statements that could, for the time
being, legitimately be made without reservation in a (sufficiently detailed)
The most obvious
way to use scientific information for policy-making is to employ information
from the corpus. For many purposes, this is the only sensible thing to do.
However, in risk management decisions exclusive reliance on the corpus may have
In this circumstance, Hansson recommends
that the best available non-corpus sources be used.
In seeking these sources, Global Risk Progress looks first for peer-reviewed
articles. Within these, the order of preference is large multi-author review articles, then
single author review articles, and then single author non-review articles. For non-peer reviewed
material, in the modern
world, the internet is by far the major source. Our criterion in this case is to seek long-established high
reputation internet sites.
Here we assess whether or not the plan is on track –
either in the approval process, or, if the plan has been approved, in its implementation. In each case we are looking to identify any
bottlenecks. If bottlenecks are found, we
analyse and report on them. As well, we explore
and present policy options for their removal.
At this stage, for
selected policy options, we make representations to relevant decision-makers. We
also encourage readers to consider making their own representations. We then provide
updates on the responses from decision-makers as responses become available.
status report of this type is provided for each of the priority risks
. We rate the solution to each risk in terms of its appropriateness of
scale, and the rate and timeliness of progress.
Global Risk Progress carries out
investigations and publishes these on this site. This section outlines our media
or publishing model.
up any newspaper or news magazine and its material is divided into categories.
A standard newspaper (at least in its front few pages) presents stories in
terms of “importance” – the nearer the front page and the larger the headline,
the more important. The definition of importance is often not made explicit but
seems to be made up of the concepts of “seriousness” and “scale of impact”.
Alternatively news magazines often organise sections in departments by type of experience - the economy, society, the arts - and/or by
The way we organise our material is as follows.
our definition of importance is "what is first and foremost".
For the planet as a whole we believe that this is keeping civilisation, and
life on Earth itself, a going concern. In turn that means, as we have said,
successfully preventing global risks from coming about. So, we deal only with
we present these global risks in order of importance. For a set of risks in
general, there are two dimensions to importance - the potential scale of impact, and
urgency (relating to when the next occurrence is expected). For global risks,
scale is irrelevant - the occurrence of even the smallest is insufferable. Therefore,
our criterion for ordering risks is simply that of urgency.
third element of our model is that we provide constant monitoring of these
risks. In contrast to the changing emphasis given to topics in a standard
newspaper, the page of Global Risk Progress on climate change, for example,
will always be here, in the same place, and will always contain the most
current relevant information which we can obtain.
do we mean by relevant information? This is the fourth and final element of our
media model. Firstly Global Risk Progress is not an information service that
tries to present everything about climate change and the other risks. By
contrast we report only on certain specifics. These are what we have outlined
above – tracking the progress of solutions, identifying barriers and
bottlenecks, and highlighting policy options for their removal. Secondly, it
should be noted that some of the source data concerning these specifics may be
updated only once a year. In that case, the analysis we publish based on that
data will continue to be the one readers see, until the next data release
occurs. The fact that the data may be “old” in terms of the 24/7 news cycle is
not relevant to this model.
Can information of this sort foster the risks being addressed in a more timely fashion than
would otherwise be the case?
There are encouraging
precedents. Comprehensive information comes from a recent peer-reviewed
study entitled “How firms respond to
being rated” (Chatterji and Toffel, 2010)
Firstly, as far as the number
of rating services goes, the authors state that:
are subjected to an increasing number of (published) ratings and rankings, from
‘Best Places to Work’… to assessments of environmental and social
responsibility… In fact, a recent survey
counted more than 183 public lists across 38 countries of companies rated or
ranked on the basis of their reputation for corporate citizenship, employee
relations, leadership, innovation, and other characteristics…"
Writing specifically about
public-interest group involvement, the authors state:
can be found of non-governmental entities already communicating data to the
public with little involvement by government. Consider that the data solicited
annually by the EPA from tens of thousands of facilities on the use and emissions
of more than 600 toxic chemicals languishes on two fairly obscure EPA Websites (www.epa.gov/tri
). To make these data
more visible and useful, Environmental Defense and The Right-to-Know
each created user-friendly Web portals (www.scorecard.org and www.rtknet.org,
The study examined how responses
to a wide range of ratings were reﬂected in changes in performance in hundreds
of companies across a variety of industries. It found:
in organizational performance to be associated with ratings issued by an independent
rating agency. Although this study is, to our knowledge, the ﬁrst to identify
this effect with independent, non-governmental rating agencies, our results are
consistent with the ﬁndings of prior research that examined the effects of
government information disclosure programs on ﬁrm behaviour…
A concluding note
The highest priority global risks we cover
are climate change and peak fossil fuel, and these are therefore our main
by definition the other global risks - such as asteroid or comet strike or certain high-energy scientific
experiments - also require effective
us, the need for this approach is most pointedly given expression as follows.
Consider the following. In the future, humankind has just prevailed over the global risk of climate change.
And just at that moment, we learn that there is a comet large enough
to destroy civilisation on track for collision with Earth. Imagine also that
because of such an exclusive focus on climate change we have not adequately developed
– and no longer have the time to develop – the technical equipment and the
rehearsed skill base to deflect the comet.