7 steps to improve Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs) policy work
Updated: May 16
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 of being 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 focused entirely on making people aware of this new field of study. This work included contacting 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 these are shown on my website in the "Public Engagements" and "Teaching" sections.
Another great way to build public relations is by showcasing your organisation's work 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 sought 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:
WEF's Economic Recovery report, WEF's Future Scenarios for Global Risk Report and WEF's Future Focus (as a member of WEF’s Future Council on Frontier Risks).
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 the following:
Some of these submissions (together with the public relations work) led me to meet with different government offices 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 can co-create better policies and research. This is one of the more significant efforts I have at the moment. Since October 2021, I have managed a Science-Policy expert group comprising 22 organizations and 30 partners. Lessons learnt from this effort are published here:
These Sci-Pol interfaces should also be challenged to 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 solutions coming from the south. This process is much needed for any co-creation of practical 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:
Nature article on language barriers.
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 creating a comic from a scientific article we produced about Bioengineering.
Publishing books in lay language: The Era of Global Risk
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.
* GCRs are described as events that trigger the death of more than 10% of humanity.
** X-risks are events that could bring humanity to collapse to the point of no return.