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Report recommends international actions to reduce existential risks - Embassy of Finland, London : News & Current Affairs

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News, 07/02/2017

Report recommends international actions to reduce existential risks

According to a research report funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, humanity can reduce the risk of major catastrophes, such as nuclear war, climate change and pandemics, by means of actions based on informed decisions. The report identifies three strategies that can be used to reduce these risks.

Doctor Anders Sandberg (on the left) provided an overall summary of the report, Sebastian Farquhar (in the middle) is the main author of the report, and Senior Researcher Ossi Piironen (on the right) represents the project on behalf of the Foreign Ministry’s Unit for Policy Planning and Research.
Doctor Anders Sandberg (on the left) provided an overall summary of the report, Sebastian Farquhar (in the middle) is the main author of the report, and Senior Researcher Ossi Piironen (on the right) represents the project on behalf of the Foreign Ministry’s Unit for Policy Planning and Research.

A workshop, which met at the Embassy of Finland in London on 2 February, held a lively debate on the risks threatening the future of humanity, so-called existential risks, and how these can be reduced through international actions. The debate was preceded by a presentation of the research report, prepared under the Global Priorities Project and funded by the Foreign Ministry's Unit for Policy Planning and Research. The title of the research report is “Existential Risk: Diplomacy and Governance”.

The most likely catastrophes are man-made

In her opening address, Ambassador Päivi Luostarinen noted that even though efforts to prevent large-scale catastrophes, such as conflicts involving nuclear weapons, have been taken over the years through diplomacy, a number of new threats are looming on the horizon, which the international community should address early enough to constrain them.

According to Senior Research Fellow Anders Sandberg from the Future of Humanity Institute, which is a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford, the most likely global catastrophic risks posing a threat to humanity are man-made.  These include a large nuclear war, threats related to artificial intelligence, extreme climate change, and failed technological measures to stop it, pandemics caused by biotechnologically engineered pathogens, and global totalitarianism.

Sandberg considers that many of the threats becoming reality is very unlikely, the risk is even infinitesimal, but they should still not be underestimated, because the large dimensions of potential devastation. Humanity can reduce the likelihood of the realisation of the risks, make preparations, and mitigate the harmful impacts caused by them.

Three risk management strategies

During the three assessment rounds held by the authors of the report, three particularly promising strategies were identified out of the original 107 proposals for measures. These three strategies were then examined in more detail.  The three policy recommendations for the countries of the world are:

  1. Developing international regulation and governance mechanisms for solar radiation management (SRM) research and activities.
  2. Establishing scenarios and exercises for action to protect against pathogen-engineered pandemics at the international level.
  3. Building awareness and knowledge-base of existential risks and their reduction.

In addition to representatives of the Finnish Foreign Service, a number of British researchers, business people and active representatives of organisations took part in the discussion about the report. They were concerned about the international situation, because it does not seem to favour the creation of new, confidence-building based contractual arrangements.

Knowledge helps in preparing for risks

The information produced in the course of the project will help in making preparations for future risks and threats. The report identifies areas related to security in which international governance mechanisms are still undeveloped. Therefore it serves the needs of the Foreign Ministry’s long-term strategic planning.

The Ministry’s Unit for Policy Planning and Research will organise an event for invited guests in the spring, where Finnish experts will assess opportunities for implementing the recommendations.

The report: Existential Risk - Diplomacy and Governance (PDF, 1737 kB)

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Updated 07/02/2017


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