Technological developments bring with them many advantages, but also risks. Dealing with these presents us with major challenges.
Technological developments bring with them many advantages, but also risks. Dealing with these presents us with major challenges. istock/AndreyPopov

Headline: Systemic Risks

The growing complexity of our world is making it increasingly difficult to anticipate and handle risks associated with technological development and social change. While the transitions we face today offer many benefits, they are also associated with tremendous risks. The group focuses on "systemic risks", which are characterised by high degrees of complexity and interdependency. Its research addresses questions such as: What are the risks posed by the growing ubiquity of digital technologies? What chain reactions could be triggered by financial crises? What are the impacts of social injustice? Which socio-psychological mechanisms influence the consumption patterns of end-users and how can sustainable behaviour be fostered? How has the precautionary principle been applied in the European Union and how can it be improved by stakeholder engagement? And what effect will interventions to cool the Earth's atmosphere (often referred to as climate engineering) have on the environment, the economy, and human health?

The group's research analyses the various interdependencies between technology, nature, and society with a particular focus on complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. On the basis of this analysis, the researchers aim to identify common patterns and structural features of systemic risks. Last but not least, they seek to identify policy instruments and methods of governance with the capacity to alleviate systemic risks.

Projects

Systemic Risks

This project identifies the structural features common to systemic risks like climate change, financial crises and digitalisation. The overall goal is to develop robust, enhanced governance instruments to support the management of such risks and to protect critical infrastructure and utilities.

Plastic: social perception and behaviour patterns

Despite the adoption of advanced waste disposal and recycling systems, plastic continues to enter the environment through littering, illegal dumping, and the use of waste-based fertilisers in farming. Researchers at the IASS are studying the issue of plastic pollution and how plastics are purchased, used, and disposed. Their findings will inform the development of proposals for transdisciplinary solutions.

REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders (RECIPES)

The precautionary principle is supposed to prevent environmental and health risks from arising in the first place. It encourages early and forward-looking action to minimise risks, for example in the use of nanotechnologies or pesticides. Critics of the precautionary principle argue, however, that it promotes excessive caution and hinders technological innovation. The project "REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders" (RECIPES) aims to analyse how the precautionary principle is applied in the European Union and improve its future application with recourse to participatory methods.