Global risks

The Global Challenges Foundation has identified five main categories of key risks. This page provides summaries of each of these categories. Each overview explores what is at stake, and examines main factors affecting risk levels. All risk texts are prepared in collaboration with leading experts in the field. Current governance frameworks for mitigating each risk are considered.

Risks in focus

The primary area of concern of the Global Challenges Foundation are the risks associated with climate change, large-scale environmental degradation and weapons of mass destruction. These risks extend beyond the threats themselves to include underlying circumstances that amplify their likelihood and impact, such as extreme poverty and politically motivated violence.

Climate change
A road passing through desert dunes, as seen from above. A blue car has stop, as sand has covered part of the road.

Climate change

The consequences of climate change could be catastrophic, and yet, there has been insufficient progress in addressing it.

To climate change
Ecological collapse
Plastic pollution floating in the sea.

Ecological collapse

To ecological collapse
Weapons of mass destruction

Weapons of mass destruction

The potential devastation of nuclear and biological/chemical warfare cannot be overstated.

To weapons of mass destruction
  • Climate change
    A road passing through desert dunes, as seen from above. A blue car has stop, as sand has covered part of the road.

    Climate change

    The consequences of climate change could be catastrophic, and yet, there has been insufficient progress in addressing it.

    To climate change
  • Ecological collapse
    Plastic pollution floating in the sea.

    Ecological collapse

    To ecological collapse
  • Weapons of mass destruction

    Weapons of mass destruction

    The potential devastation of nuclear and biological/chemical warfare cannot be overstated.

    To weapons of mass destruction

Other risks

Emerging and unknown risks
An advanced robot.

Emerging and unknown risks

To emerging and unknown risks
Natural catastrophes

Natural catastrophes

Occur without direct human influence and have the potential to cause widespread devastation and loss of life.

To natural catastrophes
  • Emerging and unknown risks
    An advanced robot.

    Emerging and unknown risks

    To emerging and unknown risks
  • Natural catastrophes

    Natural catastrophes

    Occur without direct human influence and have the potential to cause widespread devastation and loss of life.

    To natural catastrophes

Definition

Global catastrophic risks have existed since the beginning of time. Life has been wiped out by meteors and supervolcanoes, and disease has killed vast populations. However, today, for the first time in history, humanity has the capability to seriously damage the conditions for life on the planet.

In assessing the risk of a global catastrophe, we need to adopt a comprehensive and nuanced approach that considers all possible outcomes and works towards mitigating risks while also preparing for potential worst-case scenarios. It’s clear that selecting a cutoff value is a challenging task.

We define a global catastrophic risk as an event that could cause the death of more than 10 per cent of humanity, or global risks that could cause damage on a similar scale. We have combined historical evidence and scientific data to identify the most urgent risks facing humankind. Many of these risks are interconnected, such as climate change and ecological collapse.

Further reading

Additional reading material can be found in our library.

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