7 steps to improve Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs) policy work
Updated: Aug 4
One of the first things that need to be clear from the get-go is that Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs) and Existential Risks (X-risks) are not on the to-do list nor are priorities for most policymakers (and citizens) around the world. We can keep producing tons of scientific publications on GCRs but if they are not used outside the academic ivory tower, we risk the probability to be too late. So, what is needed?
1) Public Relations (a.k.a raising awareness): the first year of my work at the Centre for Study of Existential Risk was quite focused on making people aware of this new field of study. This work included reaching out to journalists, podcasters and organizations working on Global Risk. It also included giving presentations at universities and other academic and non-academic institutions (through statements, workshops, seminars, etc). Examples of many of these are shown on my website in the sections of "Public Engagements" and "Teaching".
Another great way to build public relations is by showcasing the work your organization has been doing in the policy arena. For example, I use this report I produced when engaging with different stakeholders for the first time:
CSER's “Pathways linking Science and Policy in Global Risk”.
2) Building partnerships and increasing the efficiency of policy work: of course, the key to success is to do it together with other leading organizations. Therefore, I seek and joined different organizations that are focused on "Future risks", "Global Risks" or "Frontier Risks", which are other names usually used for GCRs outside academia. Some outputs that came out from those relations include the co-production of International Policy Reports that by myself would have been much harder and taken more time to achieve:
WHO's Dual-use of technology report (as a participant in the foresight exercise).
G20's Foresight report (as an S20 member ).
UNDRR's new scientific agenda for Sendai Framework (as part of the expert review group).
UNU-CPR's Policy brief for the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (not publicly available)
3) Focusing at the local level as well: immersing myself in the scientific advice process in the UK allowed me to advise Lord Bird's team during the creation of the Well-being of Future Generations Bill. In addition, I have also prepared submissions of scientific evidence to the UK government on:
Some of these submissions (together with the public relations work) led me to have meetings with different offices in the government considering working on GCRs.
4) Making GCRs context-relevant: if there is a silver lining to the recent COVID-19 pandemic is that it gives us an opportunity to explain what could happen (at a smaller scale) if GCRs are not prevented. Looking for the lessons learnt from this pandemic or to economic recovery allows us to think about policy solutions that can be used as pillars for the prevention or mitigation of GCRs:
Observer Research Foundation on Covid19 in Peru.
CSER and the future of circular economy research.
5) Building Science-Policy interfaces: we can not keep working on silos and repeat the failed "solutions" of the past. We must create spaces where academics and policy brokers can build trust and common understanding so they will be able to co-create better policies, but also better research. This is one of the bigger efforts I have at the moment and since October last year, I have been managing a Science-Policy expert group that compromises 22 organizations and 30 partners. Lessons learnt from this effort will be published at the end of the year:
“Building a Science-Policy Interface for Global Catastrophic and Existential Risk” (not published yet)
These Sci-Pol interfaces should be challenged to also address the "roots of all evils"... what is the real reason for the inaction toward GCR governance? How can we solve short-termism or the failure of multilateralism when a global catastrophe hits? Do we have a political problem? If so, how do we solve it instead of only producing more lists and lists of risks that can become existential?
6) Bringing the voices from the Global South: if we are searching for solutions to GLOBAL problems we need to know the challenges, visions and also solutions coming from the south. This process is much needed for any co-creation of effective policy solutions. You can do this work by publishing research in languages other than English, by writing about Science Diplomacy for the Global South, advocating for Open Science so knowledge can reach everyone or by including more participants from Low and Middle-Income countries in your research or science-policy work:
7) Innovating on how to communicate GCRs: much more work is needed in this area, especially in this virtual world when we are constantly competing with entertainment (movies, tv, video games, sports, etc) or social media content (TikTok, Instagram, etc). A small effort I made in this area was to create a comic out of a scientific article we produced about Bioengineering.
Of course, the recommendations presented in this article are only based on my experience working at CSER for the last two years. Please feel free to add any more points of view, critics or other comments.