World leaders warned of existential risks in new report

February 3, 2017, University of Oxford
The Flame of Peace at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Credit: Inefekt69 (Flickr Creative Commons)

World leaders must do more to limit risk of global catastrophes, according to a report by Oxford academics launched at the Finnish Embassy in London today.

The report was carried out by the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), which is part of the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University.

The FHI studies existential risk, which is defined by its director, Professor Nick Bostrom, as a risk "where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential".

Three of the most pressing possible existential risks for humanity are pandemics, extreme climate change, and nuclear war.

So for this report, researchers interviewed experts in these fields and others. Based on these interviews, they have laid out three steps that could reduce these existential risks.

First, the report highlights the importance of regional and global cooperation in planning for pandemics, and putting more effort into planning for extreme diseases.

'As the Ebola and Zika crises showed, managing pandemics is a global responsibility,' says lead author Sebastian Farquhar. 'But too much planning is still national, and little attention is paid to worst-case scenarios including risks from deliberately engineered pathogens.'

Piers Millett, a biosecurity expert at the Future of Humanity Institute, adds: 'A recent survey of the views of national technical experts on biological weapons highlighted a dire need for broader and more sustained international focus on identifying and managing the research most readily applied to causing deliberate harm.'

Secondly, the authors recommend increased attention to the governance of geoengineering research. Geoengineering, including the release of sulphates in the stratosphere to reduce the planet's temperature, is a potentially important tool for managing the impact of climate change. But it requires a fit-for-purpose governance framework to manage risks, which is currently missing.

Finally, the authors call on the international community to explicitly recognise the value of preserving humanity's future and reducing existential risks. A declaration of the responsibilities of current generations to manage risk for the future would help, as would concrete steps to build operational international teams to work on managing catastrophe risk or enshrining specific commitments into international law.

'International cooperation on global risks is more important than ever,' says Sebastian Farquhar. 'Disease, , and nuclear winter don't respect national borders.'

Explore further: Scientists grade climate risk for investors

More information: The full report, which was supported by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, can be viewed here: … Risks-2017-01-23.pdf

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1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 03, 2017
All this may be too late.

We have Xi, Duterte, Putin, Kim, and Trump as loose cannons, huge egos, and aggressive attitudes.

The haters may have already won.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2017
Sadly, these people are ignoring the real Number One threat: Overpopulation. We have already exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of our planet.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2017
The actual problem is not overpopulation at all, the main problem is that there are a handful of MultiNational Corporations that are only beholden to maximizing dividends for the shareholder rather than being ecologically green in practice or sociologically moral in operation.

Corporations would rather waste good food in a rich area so as to have always fresh produce rather than lose profit on making sure that the whole world gets access to the wide variety and severely limit waste as well as feeding everybody on the planet very well. We are not at our holding capacity, we waste way too much as is with planned inefficiency.

We need to remove much of the purely profit incentive of corporations in favor of the environment and moral concerns, Money Does Not Trump All!
not rated yet Feb 11, 2017
Overpopulation is NOT because of greedy corporations. Yes, they manage the food supply to maximize their profits but it is absolutely overpopulation that's driving all the madness. Too much of everything is over exploited. Fish, forests and minerals have all been taken to the max and we are running out of these resources quickly. The more people we have to feed, the more fish we need to catch which has already reduced the size of the catch because the largest fish have been taken so only smaller are left. Now we need more of those smaller ones to fill the same stomachs. Everyone has a right to energy, food and a safe place to live. 7 billion of us have overrun the earth's ability to provide that. Sadly and paradoxically, the poorest countries have the most children and thus the most difficulty to provide.

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