The growing complexity and interconnectedness of our world is making it increasingly difficult to anticipate and tackle risks. What effect will interventions to cool the Earth's atmosphere (climate engineering) have on the environment, the economy, and society? How do global financial crises arise and unfold? What chain reactions can natural hazards trigger in critical infrastructures and how are the environment and society affected by that? What are the impacts of climate change and what factors stand in the way of social justice? These are the questions addressed by the Systemic Risks project.
What are systemic risks?
The Systemic Risks project analyses complex, transnational risk phenomena that are not adequately addressed by existing risk management policy instruments. Systemic risks are characterised by cascading effects, tipping points and non-linear developments. They originate in tightly coupled systems, particularly at the interface of the environment, society and technology. The complex interactions between these domains can either give rise to systematic risks or amplify their effects. Many systematic risks fall into the high-damage/low-probability category. They are difficult to grasp in quantitative terms due to the interconnectedness of drivers, a multitude of intervening factors, and poorly understood impact pathways. This gives rise not only to scientific uncertainties but also to uncertainties with regard to the management and governance of systemic risks. Researchers in this project are therefore trying to determine whether different systemic risks are characterised by common patterns or structural features. They are interested in discovering the logic behind the development of systematic risks and the signs that can alert us to such risks at an early stage (early detection).
Tackling systemic risks effectively
This research project aims to develop a transdisciplinary governance approach to systematic risks. It will identify guidelines and governance approaches for addressing systemic risks on the basis of empirical case studies on subjects like climate engineering, the financial markets, natural hazards and critical infrastructure, plastic waste in the environment, and social inequity. The findings of these case studies are also expected to provide insights into the patterns that underlie systemic risks. This knowledge about the internal logic of systemic risks is crucial to early detection and effective governance. In addition to peer-reviewed articles in renowned scientific journals and policy briefs, there are plans for a special issue (together with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities), an international conference on systemic risks in cooperation with the Society for Risk Analysis Europe, and several workshops. A handbook on "Risk and Technology" is currently being prepared.