SIPRI: The World Enters a New Era of Risk

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has published a report on risks for global security and environment. The authors state that the much severe risks are hiding behind the headlines of the conflict in Europe and the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The deepening twin crises in security and the environment become a trend of the new era. The mix is toxic, profound and damaging; and institutions with the power to find solutions, including governments, are waking up far too slowly.

Unrelated events in two different parts of the world combine to create an unforeseen risk in a third location. A climate change-fuelled weather disaster creates shocks throughout a global supply chain. Violence and crop disaster jointly make life unliveable for many thousands of farmers, contributing to migration. All over the world, predominantly in places already hampered by poverty and poor governance, the combination of rising insecurity and environmental degradation is creating a new era of risk.

The darkening security horizon, including  unprecedented growth of spending on arms and military forces, the risk of nuclear use, growing number of armed conflicts presents one of the risk layers; environmental decline adds a second layer. The interaction of the two trends produces a third, more complex set of risks, whose significance humanity is only beginning to grasp.

The authors of the report argue that the most vulnerable to the crises of the new wave of risks will be unstable states, which are characterized by weak institutions and the inability to respond promptly to emerging challenges. In such States, environmental problems will only aggravate the current state of affairs and, probably, will lead them to a state of deep crisis. As an argument, the institute's experts address to the fact that half of the current UN peacekeeping operations are conducted in countries most affected by climate change.

Due to the emergence of new risks, it is necessary to significantly revise the concept of security in general and effectively combine the classical State security and human security concepts. The role of international cooperation and adaptability is also increasing. The latter, however, should also be revised. According to SIPRI experts, at the moment, states are spending budgetary funds to combat the consequences, but not the causes of emergencies.

At the same time, efforts aimed at ensuring resilience involve significant transformations of many aspects of society's life at an unprecedented pace and scale. The authors of the document recognize that the transition process can be extremely destructive, in particular in the States of the Global South, where, for example, environmental initiatives can cause serious social unrest and conflicts.

SIPRI experts proposed a classification of risks based on the principle of their impact:

Compound risks. Two or more factors interact in a given region or context to generate a more complex set of risks with greater impacts than any of the individual risks pose alone.

Risk 1Cascading risks. An initial event creates risk(s) that spill over into other regions or sectors, generating further impacts that snowball to produce new risks distinct from and potentially greater than the original event.

Risk 2

Emergent risks. Two or more independent factors, occurring in separate regions or contexts, interact to create a new risk that would not otherwise exist.

Risk 3

Systemic risks. Multiple shocks or pressures interact with sufficient severity and at sufficient scale to generate cumulative risks that can threaten the integrity or stability of societal or environmental systems: an economy, community, or even a country.

Risk 4

 

Existential risks. A mixture of drivers creates conditions so severe that they threaten the end of something profoundly important, such as country or a culture, or they may lead to a large number of casualties.

Risk 5Understanding the upcoming changes in the structure of global risks for security and environment, the authors also provided a list of recommendations addressed to international organizations,  national governments, private sector, civil society and other sectors. 

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