The future of global catastrophic risk events from climate change

The nine planetary boundaries beyond which there is a risk of destabilization of the Earth system, which would threaten human societal development, April 2022 version. (Image credit: Stockholm Resilience Institute; plot annotated for clarification)

Four times since 1900, human civilization has suffered global catastrophes with extreme impacts: World War I (40 million killed), the 1918-19 influenza pandemic (40-50 million killed), World War II (40-50 million killed), and the COVID-19 pandemic (an economic impact in the trillions, and a 2020-21 death toll of 14.9 million, according to the World Health Organization).

These are the only events since the beginning of the 20th century that meet the United Nations’s definition of global catastrophic risk (GCR): a catastrophe global in impact that kills over 10 million people or causes over $10 trillion (2022 USD) in damage.

But human activity is “creating greater and more dangerous risk” and increasing the odds of global catastrophic risk events, by increasingly pushing humans beyond nine “planetary boundaries” of environmental limits within which humanity can safely operate, warns a recent United Nations report, “Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction – Our World at Risk: Transforming Governance for a Resilient Future” (GAR2022) and its companion paper, “Global catastrophic risk and planetary boundaries: The relationship to global targets and disaster risk reduction” (see July post, “Recklessness defined: breaking 6 of 9 planetary boundaries of safety“).

These reports, endorsed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, make the case that the combined effects of disasters, economic vulnerabilities, and overtaxing of ecosystems are creating “a dangerous tendency for the world to tend toward the Global Collapse scenario. 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 … and total societal collapse is a possibility.”

Jeff Masters, Yale Climate Connections, 28 July 2022. Full article.

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