Global Catastrophic Risk and Disaster Risk Reduction

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* Report: Global catastrophic risk and planetary boundaries: The relationship to global targets and disaster risk reduction. United States Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), 2022


Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022; Contributing Paper.


"The impact on global targets, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and future versions of these goals, as well as on disaster risk reduction efforts from global catastrophic risk events and the crossing of planetary boundaries is not well understood yet has the potential to undo the development, capability building, and adaptability that has been created to date. This paper presents a literature review on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework, global catastrophic risk, an d planetary boundaries before undertaking a scenario analysis. The scenario analysis considers worlds where global catastrophic risk is high and low, and planetary boundaries have not been crossed and have been crossed respectively. This gives rise to four scenarios: Earth Under Uncertainty, Global Collapse, Stable Earth, and Earth Under Threat. In all of these scenarios except for Stable Earth the achievement of global targets and accompanying frameworks is negatively impacted. Furthermore, in the absence of change, scenarios Earth Und er Uncertainty and Earth Under Threat tend towards that of Global Collapse. From the scenarios, and assessing the possible achievements of global targets and frameworks, policy recommendations are proposed. It is recommended that both preventive and reactive policy be developed, with preventive prioritised due to the lower resource cost. It is presented that in order to ensure disaster risk reduction continues, a goal, with targets, should be made for the planetary boundaries in the next version of the Sustainable Development Goals, and that global catastrophic risk is incorporated into the targets. Furthermore, it is recommended that in order for disaster risk reduction to be as effective as possible, appropriate targets should be incorporated into the next generation of the Sendai Framework."



The four scenarios:

See also: Global Risk Scenarios

Earth Under Uncertainty

"This scenario presents a world where planetary boundaries have not been extensively crossed, or there is a high level of uncertainty as to humanity’s position relative to the boundary and no evidence to suggest it having been crossed or necessarily approached. GCR risk is high, with the likelihood of a GCR event being extreme or an GCR event having already occurred or in the process of occurring. In this scenario it is possible that there has been some achievement towards global targets, with potential international cooperation to ensure that planetary boundaries have not been crossed. However, given the imminent threat of GCR events, further policy development is required, that is ambitious, in order to ensure that development targets are achieved and the world is not pushed towards a Global Collapse scenario. A mixture of preventive and reactive policy is required. In this scenario the presence and success of a framework such as the Sendai Framework is essential as in this case GCR needs to be reduced. In the case of a GCR event having taken place, or taking place in the near future, it is likely that progress towards international development and the achievement of global development targets will have been stalled, if not having had progress reversed. In this scenario there is still international cooperation and ambition towards achieving global targets, and the non-crossing of the planetary boundaries has resulted in limited environmental impacts that have in turn not extensively inhibited progress to global targets.

Global Collapse

This scenario presents a world where planetary boundaries have been extensively crossed, and if GCR events have not already occurred or are in the process of occurring then their likelihood of doing so in the future is extreme. I n this scenario, global targets have most likely not been achieved, and the resulting collapse of society in this scenario means that the future achievement of any global targets is unlikely, and total societal collapse is a possibility. Disaster risk reduction has not been successful and disasters are common, with disaster events as well as GCR events such as pandemics increasing. Existing frameworks such as the Sendai Framework have not been successful, risk has not been mitigated and neither has resilience nor adaptability been built into the system. The crossing of planetary boundaries is likely to exacerbate GCR risk, with large and complex environmental feedback loops leading to further environmental and social collapse. Depending on the extent of the crossing of the planetary boundaries and the severity of any GCR events that may have occurred, policy interventions that are not drastic are unlikely to improve society and a reactive policy approach will need to be taken. In this scenario international cooperation is extremely limited with a high risk of global or environmental conflict as the environment degrades, with potential forced migrations of people from uninhabitable areas that in turn has the potential to heighten GCR by making events such as pandemic or nuclear war more likely (Cernev & Fenner, 2020).

Stable Earth

In this scenario the earth ecosystem is stable. High levels of ambition towards the achievement of global targets has resulted in planetary boundaries not being crossed, or the crossin g having been kept to a minimum. Global targets have largely been achieved or there has been significant progress towards achieving them. In this scenario, a risk framework such as the Sendai Framework has been successful in helping the world to understand and subsequently mitigate risk whilst building resilience and adaptability across society. Disaster risk reduction has been successful, with disasters not increasing, GCR events are unlikely and the likelihood of them occurring have been further reduced through successful policy interventions and international cooperation. From the achievement of global targets, humanity has increased international cooperation and is able to set more ambitious global targets that further reduce the risk of crossing planetary boundaries or GCR events from occurring. The world is on a sustainable path and is focused on further preventive policy with reactive policy at this time being unnecessary.

Earth Under Threat

In this scenario, planetary boundaries have been crossed past a safe limit, or there is a large degree of uncertainty as to humanity’s position relative to the boundaries with strong suspicion and evidence of some if not all having been crossed. Whilst GCR is low and GCR events are unlikely to occur, the complex feedback loops that operate between the planetary boundaries are likely to increase the likelihood of GCR events occurring in the near future. Furthermore, political instability and subsequently as a result global instability due to a quickly degrading environment has the potential to drive conflict and hinder future progress towards achieving global targets. In this scenario, the world is on a path towards a Global Collapse where GCR event scenario, s are occurring unless considerable preventive and reactive policy interventions that are ambitious are globally adopted and successfully undertaken. In this scenario, the success of a risk framework such as the Sendai Framework is essential. 1213 Impacts on Global Targets The approach to analysis for the impact on global targets is done in two ways. Firstly, a specialised approach for the SDGs is considered, whereby the impact of each of the scenarios on the SDGs is presented, refer Table 4. Secondly, given the completion date of the SDGs of 2030, they are broadly classified into environmental, social, economic, and political goals (Cernev & Fenner, 2020) such that the impact on future targets that are developed from the SDGs may be discerned. It is assumed that future global targets will broadly cover the same environmental, social, economic, and political aspects that the SDGs have, in much the same way that the SDGs were a follow on for the MDGs. The numerous targets and the high level of interdependencies between the goals has been taken into account (Cernev & Fenner, 2020)."