The United Nations was founded on the idea that, if states came together, another catastrophic war of the scale and suffering of World War II could be avoided. Since then, the nature and perception of global catastrophic risks have changed dramatically. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis still occur, but the range of hazards that are driven at least in part by destructive human action—Anthropocenic risks—has broadened. In addition, some hazards once thought to be exclusively the result of natural processes are now known to be occasionally triggered by human action. The distinction between natural and human-induced risks is being rethought, and perhaps abandoned altogether, in light of the Anthropocene.
In this paper for the Global Challenges Foundation, Adriana Erthal Abdenur addresses the following questions:
- What major risks has the UN system dealt with in the past, and how did these experiences with catastrophes shape the UN’s approach?
- To what extent is the UN system “fit for purpose” in anticipating, monitoring, communicating, and responding to the emerging risks of the Anthropocene?
- What are the major knowledge gaps regarding global governance and global catastrophic risks, especially as they relate to the role of the UN?