The Global Challenges Foundation was founded in 2012 by Swedish financial analyst and author Laszlo Szombatfalvy. The Foundation’s aim is to contribute to reducing the main global problems and risks that threaten humanity.
A new global world
The world has changed dramatically during the past century. In many ways, the change has been for the better. In most countries, the average level of standard of living has improved, as has life expectancy. Moreover, technological breakthroughs have made society global, both economically and culturally.
But there is an obvious downside to this fundamentally positive trend. Some problems have grown larger, and new risks that threaten humanity have emerged. The most dramatic change may be that humankind is capable, for the first time in history, of seriously damaging the very ecosystem that we are all completely dependent on – and, in fact, is well on its way to do so.
The most important underlying factor is that the Earth’s population has quadrupled during the last century, particularly in a number of poor countries. One consequence of this population explosion, which has occurred simultaneously with a great rise in standard of living in many countries, is a significant increase in the use of energy and other natural resources. This, in turn, has caused extensive large-scale environmental damage, including climate change.
The Global Challenges Foundation, together with leading researchers, has identified a number of risks that could threaten the existence of at least a tenth of Earth’s population. Such risks are referred to as global catastrophic risks. A description of these risks and the latest research on them can be found in the Global Challenges Foundation’s Annual Risk Reports.
In November 2016, the Global Challenges Foundation invited thinkers from all over the world to send in proposals on how to address global challenges more effectively and equitably than has been done up until now. The Foundation decided to focus on the five greatest and most urgent risks.
- Climate change is the greatest and most well-known of the risks that could threaten the existence of all humanity. With the Paris agreement of 2015, a majority of the world’s heads of government made a commitment to keeping global warming at less than 1.5–2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. However, it is unclear whether this work will be successful, especially if the United States stands by its decision to leave the agreement. Another worry is that large-scale climate catastrophes will occur even if the warming is halted at 2 degrees.
- Other large-scale environmental damage. The Earth’s ecosystem is the foundation for all human life on this planet. In the long term, overuse of several natural resources, as well as other large-scale environmental damage, is a threat to the supply of both food and water, as well as the resilience of the ecosystem.
- Politically motivated violence. Political violence takes many forms: war between states, civil war, genocide and ethnic cleansing. During the past decades it has also resulted in extensive, involuntary migration that is hard to manage. This is accompanied by the latent threat of use of weapons of mass destruction by certain states – nuclear weapons as well as chemical and biological weapons.
- Extreme poverty. This is not a threat – it is an ongoing catastrophe. About ten percent of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty at this very moment, which means that they live on less than USD 1.90 a day. A significant proportion of the poor lacks access to clean water and basic healthcare. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of this is that about 16,000 children under the age of five die every day, mainly from preventable causes.
- Population growth. According to the United Nations’ latest prognosis, the Earth’s population will grow from today’s circa 7.5 billion to 11.2 billion in 2100. This increase would not only make the fight against poverty harder, but would also significantly increase the other global risks, and would result in unprecedented levels of migration.
Underestimated risks and an outdated political system
These five main challenges are interdependent and influence each other detrimentally. This means that immediate joint action by the world’s states is an absolute necessity. As these risks include the greatest threats to humanity, they should be on top of the international political agenda in order to ensure safety for existing and future generations.
This is not the case today. The global system that was created to address global problems – in particular, the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies – is not equipped to handle large global problems in an effective and equitable manner. The actions that have been taken and decided upon so far to address the largest risks have been inadequate. The risks and challenges remain, and in many cases have even increased, despite having been known for decades. There are two main reasons for this:
- The scope of risks and problems has been underestimated due to an inadequate understanding and lacking or nonexistent risk and problem analysis.
- The international political system has not yet adapted to today’s global community.
What does the Global Challenges Foundation do?
The Global Challenges Foundation works along two parallel pathways to decrease the greatest global risks and problems facing humanity:
1. Increasing knowledge and raising awareness of the greatest global risks and problems among policy makers, thought leaders, and the general public.
2. Stimulating debate and thought around new, better and more equitable models for how to manage the greatest global threats and challenges more effectively and equitably.
Since its inception in 2012, the Global Challenges Foundation has initiated and supported a number of projects that are aligned with the goals of the Foundation. The following are some of the more notable projects:
- The New Shape Prize. In May 2018 at the New Shape Forum, GCF awarded a total of USD 1.8 million to 3 finalists of the Global Challenges Prize 2017: A New Shape. This was a competition seeking improved models of international cooperation capable of tackling the most pressing threats to humanity. The Prize aimed to stimulate visionary thinking from the brightest minds in academia, politics, business and civil society to forge transformative approaches and secure a better future for all. The competition received 2702 entries from 122 countries, a reflection of the truly global engagement that GCF aspired to.
- The New Shape Forum, held on 27-29 May 2018, convened over 200 leading thinkers and experts in Stockholm. Participants discussed fresh ideas for improving global governance to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, building on the best submissions from the New Shape Prize. Keynote speakers who attended the event included Margot Wallström, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sweden, Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Johan Rockström, internationally recognized scientist, outgoing executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
- The New Shape Process. GCF remains very committed to supporting the further development of ideas that can improve global governance to mitigate the greatest risks that humanity face today. In June 2018, GCF selected 5 working groups that will receive funding as part of the drive to increase research, knowledge and elaboration of more holistic models of global governance. These groups will further have the opportunity to present at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2018, where world leaders, experts and thinkers will be in attendance.
- Global Challenges at the Stockholm School of Economics. The Foundation has made a grant of 40 million SEK (about USD 5 million) to create the Global Challenges Track at the Stockholm School of Economics.
- Periodical reports, where the Global Challenges Foundation works with researchers and thinkers from all over the world to present facts and ideas concerning global risks and how they can be managed and reduced.
- Surveys. On three occasions (in 2014, 2017 and 2018) the Global Challenges Foundation has commissioned surveys of how citizens in different countries rank different global risks, and what the respondents consider is the best way to manage them.
- Events. The Global Challenges Foundation continuously engages in the roles of initiator, participant and sponsor of international meetings and conferences on global risks and global governance.
Read more. To read a more thorough presentation and discussion of global challenges and risks, go to the page “Our approach”. You can also download Laszlo Szombatfalvy’s book The Greatest Challenges of Our Time, first published in 2010. A majority of the reports and surveys issued or commissioned by the Global Challenges Foundation can also be downloaded from the section on 'Our work'.
The Global Challenges Foundation is committed to supporting increased understanding and knowledge about global catastrophic risks. When the Foundation financially supports specific research projects, the academic work is conducted independently by individual researchers without any involvement from the Foundation. The results of this research, and any publication hereof, is entirely the responsibility of the researchers and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.