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Summary

This post motivates and describes a potential International Panel on Global Catastrophic Risks (IPGCR). The IPGCR will focus only on GCRs: risks that could cause a global collapse of human civilization or human extinction. The IPGCR seeks to fit an important and currently unoccupied niche: an international expert organization whose only purview is to produce expert reports and summaries for the international community on risks that could cause a global collapse of human civilization or human extinction. The IPGCR will produce reports across scientific and technical domains, and it will focus on the ways in which risks may intersect and interact. This will aid policymakers in constructing policy that coordinates and prioritizes responses to different threats, and minimizes the chance that any GCR occurs, regardless of its origin. The IPGCR will work in some areas where there is more consensus among experts and some areas where there is less consensus. Unlike consensus-seeking organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IPGCR will not necessarily seek consensus. Instead, it will seek to accurately convey areas of consensus, disagreement, and uncertainty among experts. The IPGCR will draw on leadership and expertise from around the world and across levels of economic development to ensure that it promotes the interests of all humanity in helping to avoid and mitigate potential global catastrophes.

You can chat with the post here: Chat with IPGCR (although let me know if this GPT seems unaligned with this post as you chat with it). 

1. Introduction and Rationale

Global catastrophic risks (GCRs) are risks that could cause a global collapse of human civilization or human extinction (Bostrom 2013, Bostrom & Cirkovic 2011, Posner 2004). Addressing these risks requires good policy, which requires a good understanding of the risks and options for mitigating them. However, primary research is not enough: policymakers must be informed by objective summaries of the existing scholarship and expert-assessed policy options. 

This post proposes the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Catastrophic Risks (IPGCR). The IPGCR is an international organization that synthesizes scientific understanding and makes policy recommendations related to global catastrophic risks. The IPGCR will report on the scientific, technological, and socioeconomic bases of GCRs, the potential impacts of GCRs, and options for the avoidance and mitigation of GCRs.

The IPGCR will synthesize previously published research into reports that summarize the state of relevant knowledge. It will sit under the auspices of the United Nations, and its reports will include explicit policy recommendations aimed at informing decision-making by the UN and other bodies. To draw an analogy, the IPGCR does not put out forest fires; it surveys the forest, and it advises precautionary measures to minimize the chance of a forest fire occurring.

The IPGCR’s reports will aim to be done in a comprehensive, objective, open, and transparent manner, including fully communicating uncertainty or incomplete consensus around the findings. The mechanisms for how this will be accomplished are described throughout this document.

The IPGCR draws on best practices from other international organizations and adopts those that best fit within the IPGCR’s purview. Like the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Society, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPGCR will primarily operate through expert volunteers from academia, industry, and government, who will write and review the reportsIn contrast to these other institutions, the IPGCR will be explicitly focused only on how potential risks could destroy civilization globally or cause human extinction. For instance, an IPGCR report on climate change would consider climate change as a GCR itself, as well as how climate change could affect other GCRs, both in terms of their probability of occurrence and the magnitude of their effects. This contrasts with, e.g., IPCC and World Health Organization (WHO) publications, which are meant to provide broad and comprehensive assessments of global health[1] and climate change respectively (IPCC 2014, Hulme 2022). While the IPGCR will likely draw from some of the same experts and knowledge base as these organizations, it will have a sharper focus on global catastrophes. Finally, the IPGCR is constructed to assess GCRs across domains, unlike the domain-specific WHO and IPCC. This will allow the IPGCR to compare potential risks on a like-for-like basis, and to understand how they may intersect and interact. This will aid policymakers in constructing policy that coordinates and prioritizes responses to different threats, and minimizes the chance that any GCR occurs, regardless of its origin.

The IPGCR’s structure mandates that leaders have diverse expertise, but also that they come from countries across different regions and levels of economic development. The IPGCR will draw on voices across geographies and levels of economic development. This minimizes real and perceived favoring of particular groups, elevates these risks as truly global concerns, and ensures that the IPGCR promotes the interests of all humanity by helping to avoid and mitigate potential global catastrophes.

The IPGCR will sit under the auspices of the United Nations, and it will be accountable to all participating countries through the IPGCR Delegates Assembly. Each participating country gets a single Delegate in the Assembly. Delegates are both political and technical representatives of their countries. They elect the IPGCR’s management, sign off on changes in strategic direction, and endorse findings and recommendations. The Delegates’ oversight tools are shaped so that they do not unnecessarily impede the IPGCR’s flexibility or speed. For example, Delegates can approve the IPGCR’s actions remotely (without meeting in person), reports’ scientific findings have a lower bar for endorsement than their policy recommendations, and only 90% of Delegates are necessary to endorse a policy recommendation. The governance structure thus gives the IPGCR’s actions broad legitimacy while staying nimble.

In short, the IPGCR process starts with review of a diffuse array of scholarship and creates a path for analysis and recommendations to ratchet up to higher and higher levels of buy-in, agreement, and authority. The IPGCR would improve existing global governance by making it more effective in noticing, understanding, and combating global catastrophic risks.

The rest of the article is structured as follows: section 2 provides a brief background on global catastrophic risks. Section 3 describes the content produced by the IPGCR. Section 4 describes the structure and operations of the IPGCR. Section 5 describes the process for the adoption and implementation of the IPGCR.

2. Background

For the purposes of the IPGCR, global catastrophic risks are defined as risks that could cause a global collapse of human civilization or lead to human extinction. Risks that have the potential to pose a catastrophe of this scale and severity will fall under the purview of the IPGCR’s reports. Risks that are not global in scope or are not severe enough to cause global destruction of civilization, while important, are not covered by the IPGCR. Potential GCRs covered by the IPGCR must have a direct mechanism by which they contribute toward a global catastrophe. Broad social issues such as inequality, poverty, education, and health are critically important, but will not be directly covered by the IPGCR. These issues may contribute towards instability that makes a global catastrophic risk more likely and can be discussed in this context, but these issues will not be the focal point of the IPGCR’s work.

While there have been many catastrophic events in human history, GCRs have little precedent. World War II caused approximately 60 million deaths[2] or ~3% of world population. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic caused 20-40 million deaths[3] or 1-2% of world population. The 14th Century Black Death caused approximately 50 million deaths(Benedictow 2005) or ~13% of world population (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina 2017). There have been collapses of civilization on a regional scale, including the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, the Classical Maya in the 9th century, and the Rapa Nui of Easter Island in the 17th century (Diamond 2005). Although tragic, these events are not included under the purview of GCRs as defined here because they did not lead to human extinction or a collapse of civilization globally.

One historical event which may have risen to the level of a GCR was the Toba super-volcano eruption in Sumatra ~74,000 years ago, which led to a volcanic winter (Rampino & Self 1992). Because it occurred in prehistory, there is significant uncertainty about the consequences of this event, but some studies suggest that there may have only been a few thousand humans worldwide that survived the event (Ambrose 1998, Oppenheimer 2002).

GCR-relevant research is currently being done in numerous fields, including environmental science, biology, physics, geology, economics, statistics, psychology, philosophy, political science, computer science, engineering, and more. Most of this research is being carried out as part of the existing research agenda for each of these fields, not necessarily within the specific context of GCRs. However, several scholarly organizations specifically designed to study GCRs and related topics have been created recently. Examples of these institutions include the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute,[4] the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk,[5] and the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative.[6] The IPGCR is not intended to replace or duplicate the research of any of these institutions, but to collect and summarize scholarly research relevant to GCRs (regardless of whether that research was originally intended to have GCR implications), and to produce reports that can inform policy. 

3. IPGCR Content

This section describes the two key types of documents produced by the IPGCR: IPGCR Reports (3.2) and IPGCR Working Group Summaries (3.3). Each Working Group creates a series of reports throughout the 5-year cycle, and each Working Group creates a Working Group Summary at the end of the 5-year cycle. This section focuses on the content of these two types of documents; the processes and operations by which these documents are created are described in section 4. 

3.1 Defining Scope and Working Groups

The IPGCR will produce reports on different GCR topics. The report-writing process will be administered by Working Groups, organized around different sub-topics of Global Catastrophic Risks. Section 4 describes mechanisms by which Working Groups and reports are created.

While the Working Groups will ultimately be decided by the IPGCR’s governance bodies (described in section 4), for purposes of illustration and clarity, we will assume that the IPGCR’s governing bodies will create two Working Groups throughout the rest of this document: Object-level Risks (WG1) and Meta-Level Topics (WG2). The Object-level Working Group will produce reports on specific risks, while the Meta-Level Working Group will produce reports on topics that are not specific risks themselves, but are relevant to understanding and assessing GCRs. Below is an illustration of what the Working Groups and their report topics might look like:

Working Group 1 (WG1): Object-Level Risks

Assessments of specific risks that could be globally catastrophic. Potential Task Forces:

  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Climate Change
  • Biodiversity Loss
  • Interplanetary Object Impacts
  • Super Volcanoes
  • Cybersecurity Risks to Critical Infrastructure

Working Group 2 (WG2): Meta-Level Topics

Topics relevant to understanding, assessing, avoiding, and mitigating GCRs. Potential Task Forces:

  • Forecasting methods, uncertainty, and high-impact statistical tails
  • Systemic risk mechanisms, complex systems, and contagion effects
  • Human psychology and decision-making as it relates to understanding and assessing GCRs
  • Benefit-Cost Analysis of Catastrophes including topics in Ethics, discount rates, and measuring social welfare across time
  • International Cooperation and collective action
  • Creating resilient critical infrastructure
  • Legal and regulatory methods to address GCRs
  • Horizon scanning and preparing for yet unknown risks

3.2 Reports

The purpose of IPGCR reports is to assess all relevant scholarly information and then communicate the current state of the knowledge to policymakers. As such, unlike the IPCC, IPGCR reports will not necessarily seek consensus, but will identify and communicate the level of uncertainty around the report’s findings. There may indeed be certain parts of a report topic that have wide consensus, while other parts may not have consensus and have high degrees of uncertainty. A major role for IPGCR reports is to present ‘long tail’ considerations - ideas that exist outside the range of consensus of probable futures, but are nevertheless worth consideration from policymakers. IPGCR reports will treat uncertainty explicitly so that readers will be able to assess and compare uncertainties across different reports. 

Each IPGCR report will be written by a Task Force of expert volunteers, selected through a governance process described in section 4. IPGCR reports will use literature review, not original research. Priority will be given to peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and social-economic literature. Other literature, such as reports from governments and industry, can be used to expand the depth and breadth of the assessment. However, each Task Force must ensure the quality and validity of cited sources and information. 

Regardless of the report topic or Working Group, each IPGCR report will have 3 main sections:

  1. Report Findings
  2. Report Technical Summary
  3. Report Summary for Policymakers

3.2.1 Report Findings

The report findings section is the core of the report that provides a detailed description and overview of the state of current knowledge as it relates to the report’s topic. 

Working Group 1 (Object-Level Risks)

To make WG1 reports as useful as possible, the report findings section will have a standardized high-level structure. This will help to ensure continuity between the different Object Level Risks covered by WG1, and to ensure that reports on risks ranging from nuclear weapons to artificial intelligence to climate change will not be wildly different in the scope of their content. There will be a degree of authority given to Task Forces to make decisions that make sense for each specific report, but this will be within the standardized high-level structure outlined below:

  • Physical and Socioeconomic Bases of the Risk – A literature review of the current state of the natural, social, engineering, and other relevant sciences to describe the risk. 
  • Risk Assessment – Qualitatively and quantitatively assess the risk in terms of: 

              1. Direct Impacts and the Severity of Direct Impacts 

              2. Indirect Impacts and the Severity of Indirect Impacts 

              3. The Scope of Direct and Indirect Impacts 

              4. Timing 

5. Likelihood of Occurrence 

A major part of the assessment will be determining the amount of uncertainty involved with the report’s assertions. 

  • Risk Avoidance and Mitigation – A detailed discussion of different potential strategies for avoiding or mitigating the risk, including corresponding uncertainties. This section will not provide specific recommendations for policymakers, which are handled in the report's Summary for Policymakers section (discussed in section 3.2.3).

Working Group 2 (Meta-Level Topics)

Unlike WG1, WG2 covers a range of topics that are useful in understanding GCRs, but does not provide assessments of specific GCRs themselves. As such, WG2’s report findings section will not have a systematized structure, but will be at the discretion of the Task Force, with oversight from the WG2 Board leadership.

3.2.2 Report Technical Summary

This section provides a summary of the report findings section using technical/scientific terms. 

3.2.3 Report Summary for Policymakers

This section provides an overview of the report findings in lay terms. Importantly, this section also introduces policy recommendations. These recommendations will be informed by the review of existing scholarship, but the Task Force will have the freedom to consider risk avoidance and mitigation strategies that have not been previously implemented or tested. Still, whenever possible they should anchor these strategies in prior research. 

The reports of Working Group 1 (Object-Level Risks) will include recommendations for avoiding and mitigating the risk covered by that report. Working Group 2 (Meta-Level Topics), however, may not necessarily include recommendations, since these reports are focused on providing a synthesis of topics relevant to GCRs, and not on assessing specific GCRs themselves. However, Working Group 2 reports can include recommendations if the Task Force feels that it has found concrete policy recommendations as part of its work. 

3.3. Working Group Summaries

Every 5 years, each Working Group will create a summary of all new reports (process described in detail in section 4). This summary will be based on each report’s individual Technical and Policymaker Summaries. The final Working Group Summaries will include:

  • Working Group Technical Summary - Provides a more detailed technical summary of the Working Group’s reports. 
  • Working Group Summary for Policymakers - Provides an overview of the Working Group’s reports in layman’s terms, including recommendations.

Because these Working Group Summaries will summarize 5 years of the Working Group’s efforts, they will likely be the IPGCR documents most widely read by both policymakers and the general public. 

4. Structure & Operations

At a high level, the IPGCR will run on a 5-year cycle. Every 5 years, the Delegates Assembly (the IPGCR’s representative body, described in more detail below) meets as a large group to discuss and vote on key aspects of the IPGCR’s plan, policies, and procedures, including what Working Groups should exist. Working Groups will then act somewhat autonomously, with oversight from the Delegates Assembly, to produce reports as they see fit over that 5-year period. This structure will allow the IPGCR to create up-to-date reports that can address the often-changing state of knowledge in a timely manner. This structure will allow the IPGCR to be nimbler and responsive, and distinguishes it from a body such as the IPCC, which produces a single large report every 5-8 years. In the IPGCR, each Working Group will aggregate its reports every 5 years, creating a Working Group Summary. Working Group Summaries will likely be the most widely read IPGCR document. All IPGCR content will require endorsements from the Delegates Assembly in a process described throughout this section.

 

Figure 1: IPGCR governance structure. The IPGCR is designed as a nimble structure capable of frequently synthesizing varied research while obtaining broad buy-in and legitimacy from participating countries.

4.1 Governance

4.1.1 Delegates Assembly

The Delegates Assembly is made of Delegates from all participating countries. Delegates will be both diplomatic and scientific representatives of their countries, and will approve IPGCR reports. The Delegates Assembly will have a large in-person meeting once every 5 years to discuss and vote on key aspects of the IPGCR, such as the IPGCR’s processes and elections of Executive Board members. The Delegates Assembly will also have shorter annual meetings to monitor the IPGCR’s ongoing operations. The Delegates Assembly plays a key role in the IPGCR review process, described in sections 4.2 and 4.3 below. Due to the autonomous nature of the Working Groups and the ongoing nature of the Working Group reports, the Delegates Assembly will need to be available on an ongoing basis for remote review and remote voting on items that require their approval (described in detail in sections 4.2 and 4.3). This structure ensures all Delegates will have a say in the IPGCR’s operations, while also keeping the organization nimble enough to respond to changes in the state of knowledge relating to global catastrophic risks.

4.1.2 Executive Board

The Executive Board will include the IPGCR Chair and 3 Vice-Chairs, which are elected by the Delegates Assembly. To ensure heterogeneous geographical representation, there must be at least one Vice-Chair from a developing economy and at least one from a developed economy. In addition, each of the Vice-Chairs should come from different disciplinary backgrounds; possible membership could be a natural scientist, a social scientist, and an engineer, but the exact disciplines will be up to the discretion of the Delegates Assembly. Once appointed, the Executive Board will manage the IPGCR on an ongoing basis and make executive decisions around management and content.

4.1.3 Working Groups

Working Groups are operational divisions of the IPGCR, which are created by the Executive Board and approved by the Delegates Assembly. Each Working Group has a Board of five members, elected by the Delegates Assembly. At least two of these members must be from a developing economy and at least two must be from a developed economy. The five Working Group Board members should represent at least three disciplinary backgrounds, most likely a natural scientist, a social scientist, and an engineer, although the exact disciplines are up to the discretion of the Delegates Assembly. Each Working Group Board will decide internally who will serve as Chair. The Chair will have an administrative role, with no additional executive or voting power.

Working Groups will have the flexibility to be restructured as needed, though this will likely be rare, and will need to be approved by the Delegates Assembly. Each Working Group will have 5-10 full-time staff, which will assist the Task Forces. 

4.1.4 Review Team

In addition to the Working Groups that produce reports, there will be an independent Review Team, which puts reports through independent peer review. The Review Team will be managed by a Chief Review Editor, who is appointed by the Executive Board. The Chief Review Editor appoints an individual Review Monitor for each Working Group report (described in more detail below).

4.2 Report Creation and Review

The Working Group Boards will identify topics on which reports should be written. For WG1 (Object-Level Risks), the report topics will be potential GCRs. For WG2 (Meta-Level Topics), these reports will cover topics that are key to understanding, assessing, avoiding, and mitigating GCRs. When the Working Group Board proposes a report topic, the Delegates Assembly then approves or denies the Working Group’s request to continue the report-creation process. Delegates have 1 month to respond with a yes/no vote. If Delegates do not vote in time, their vote is not counted for or against. 90% approval is needed to proceed with the report.

4.2.1 Identifying Report Topics

The Working Group Boards will identify topics on which reports should be written. For WG1 (Object-Level Risks), the report topics will be potential GCRs. For WG2 (Meta-Level Topics), these reports will cover topics that are key to understanding, assessing, avoiding, and mitigating GCRs. When the Working Group Board proposes a report topic, the Delegates Assembly then approves or denies the Working Group’s request to continue the report-creation process. Delegates have 1 month to respond with a yes/no vote. If Delegates do not vote in time, their vote is not counted for or against. 90% approval is needed to proceed with the report.

4.2.2 Assembling Task Forces

Two Team Leads

Each report will be written by Task Force, led by two Team Leads. The Team Leads will be selected by the Working Group Board. For WG1, one Team Lead must be a natural science or technical expert (e.g. a biologist, an engineer, or a computer scientist) and one must be a social science expert (e.g. an economist, a sociologist, or a legal expert). WG2’s Team Leads should also be selected to maintain some heterogeneity of expertise or background, though there are no formal requirements. In all Working Groups, one Team Lead must be from a developing economy and one from a developed economy. 

Team of Authors

Team Leads will assemble a team of authors, with the oversight and consent of the Working Group Board. The team of authors will write the report content, as managed by the Team Leads. All authors, including the Team Leads, will be volunteers, and will predominantly be based in academia, industry, or government.

Technical Support

The Task Force will be assisted by the Working Group staff. Each Working Group will have 5-10 technical support staff, who are funded by the developed economies that have representation on the Working Group Board.

Review Monitor

The Chief Review Editor will appoint a volunteer Review Monitor for the report, who will manage and oversee the review process. The Review Monitor will be an expert in the report topic, and will assemble expert reviewers to review and comment on the report. The Review Monitor will arbitrate any disputes between reviewers and authors.

4.2.3 Drafting the Report Findings

Once assembled, the Task Force is expected to draft the report’s findings in about a year. The exact process of drafting the report will be up to the Task Force, but Task Forces will be funded to meet in person 2-4 times to coordinate and discuss the report’s content. The workflow of drafting, reviewing, and endorsing the report is shown in Figure 2.1 and is described below. 

4.2.4 First Draft Review (Expert Review)

The Task Force will suggest possible reviewers to the Review Monitor, but the Review Monitor will make final decisions on reviewers. The Review Monitor will invite a broad array of experts to read and critique the draft. These reviewers’ comments will be sent to the Task Force anonymously, and the Task Force must respond to them. It is the role of the Review Monitor to mediate disagreements between the Task Force and the reviewers, and to ensure the reviewers’ comments are properly responded to by the Task Force. This portion of the review process will typically take several months. Upon future publication of the report, the reviewers’ names will be listed on the report. To aid in transparency, all reviewer comments, without attribution, will be publicly available online.

4.2.5 Second Draft and Construction of the Report Summary for Policymakers and the Report Technical Summary

After receiving and responding to comments from the expert reviewers, the Task Force will create a second draft. Expert reviewers may have raised gaps in knowledge that require the Team Leads to recruit additional authors to complete the second draft. 

In addition, as the second draft is being written, two summary sections will be drafted by the Team Leads:

  • Report Summary for Policymakers - Provides an overview of the report findings in layman’s terms as well as recommendations. All report authors will be involved in the recommendation-creating process, as Team Leads will solicit recommendations from each author working on the report. However, the Team Leads will have the ultimate editorial authority to decide which recommendations are included in the final report.
  • Report Technical Summary - Provides a technical summary of the report. 

 

4.2.6 Second Draft Review (Expert and Government Review)

Upon completion of the second draft, the Review Monitor will redistribute the report findings to experts, who will review the second draft with a particular focus on new material that was added to the second draft. In addition, Delegates (who act as representatives of their countries) will receive the report findings and the first drafts of the report Summary for Policymakers and the report Technical Summary. Delegates can provide comments that are taken into account, but don’t necessarily need to be responded to by authors. As mentioned, to ensure that reports can be created in a timely manner, Delegates will have 2 months to give comments. In addition to their review comments, Delegates will provide Yes/No approval of each recommendation, and the tally will be communicated to the Task Force (e.g. 68% approved of recommendation #3). Ultimately, Delegates will provide endorsements in final review as outlined below, so authors will want to consider Delegate comments in their final changes to the document. 

Review Monitors will continue to mediate disagreements. Significant disputes will be mediated by the Working Group Board.

4.2.7 Final Changes and Review

The Task Force will make final changes to the documents. The document will then be sent to Delegates for endorsement. Delegates will provide the following types of endorsements for the different components of the report:

  • Report Findings - Delegates provide an overall endorsement that the report presents a fair assessment of the state of current knowledge around the report subject. 
  • Report Technical Summary - Delegates provide section-by-section endorsement. 
  • Report Summary for Policymakers - Delegates provide line-by-line endorsement. 
  • The overall report findings section, each section of the report Technical Summary, and each line of the report Summary for Policymakers must receive 90% endorsement from Delegates to be finalized as an IPGCR publication.

 4.3 Working Group Summary Creation and Review

Figure 2.1: Working Group Summary Creation Process

 

Figure 2.2: Report Creation Process

3 years into the IPGCR’s 5-year cycle, the Working Group Board members will start drafting the Working Group Summaries, described in section 3.2. These Working Group Summaries will be the culmination of the Working Group’s work over the 5-year cycle. They will summarize 5 years of the Working Group’s work, and will likely be the documents most widely read by policymakers and the general public. The Working Group Summaries will include two parts:

  • Working Group Technical Summary - Provides a more detailed technical summary of the Working Group’s reports. 
  • Working Group Summary for Policymakers - Provides an overview of the Working Group’s reports in layman’s terms, including recommendations.

After drafting, the two Working Group Summaries will be sent to Delegates for review (review process shown in Figure 2.2). Since these summaries will largely build off each of the individual reports from the Working Groups, which have already been reviewed by experts, these summaries will only be reviewed by the Delegates Assembly. 

As with Working Group reports, each Delegate will be given 2 months to provide comments on the Working Group summaries. Their comments will go back to the Working Group Board, which will then complete the final summary. In the 4th annual Delegates Assembly meeting within the Working Group cycle, Delegates will discuss and deliberate on the Working Group Summaries, then vote to endorse them, at different levels: 

  • Working Group Technical Summary - Delegates provide section-by-section endorsement.
  • Working Group Summary for Policymakers - Delegates provide line-by-line endorsement. 

As with the Working Group reports, each section of the Working Group Technical Summary and each line of the Working Group Summary for Policymakers must have at least 90% endorsement from Delegates to stay. Since Working Group Summaries will be endorsed as part of the Delegates Assembly meeting, all participating countries will have the opportunity to vote. However, since these Working Group Summaries build off of Working Group reports, which have already received Delegate endorsement, it will be unlikely for large parts of the Working Group Summaries to be rejected in this process.

5. IPGCR Adoption and Implementation

The IPGCR will be established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly, creating it as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. The majority of General Assembly resolutions are passed without a vote (United Nations 2022), including Resolution 43/53 that endorsed the creation of the IPCC in 1988 (United Nations 1988). Given that the benefits of addressing global catastrophic risks are by definition global, and the budget requirements are likely small—for reference, the annual budget of the IPCC is roughly $4.5M (IPCC 2016)—passing a UNGA resolution to create the IPGCR seems achievable. 

Once adopted, the process to implement the IPGCR will proceed as follows:

  1. Countries appoint their Delegates to the Delegates Assembly.
  2. The Delegates Assembly votes on the Executive Board.
  3. The Executive Board drafts the original plan, policies, and procedures for the IPGCR, including the decision on which Working Groups will be included.
  4. The Delegates Assembly votes on the plan, policies, and procedures and elects Working Group Board members.
  5. The Executive Board appoints a Review Editor.
  6. Working Group Boards identify report topics.
  7. The content creation process begins.
  8. Working Group Boards release a summary of all reports every 5 years. 
  9. Every 5 years the Executive Board reviews the IPGCR’s plan, policies, and procedures, including what Working Groups should exist. The Delegates Assembly meets in a large meeting every 5 years to review the Executive Board’s recommendations, and to vote on the new plan, policy, procedures, Working Groups, and leadership for the next 5-year cycle of the IPGCR.

References 

Ambrose, S. H.. (1998). “Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and differentiation of  modern humans.” Journal of Human Evolution, 34, 623-651.

Bostrom, Nick. (2013). "Existential risk prevention as global priority." Global Policy, 4.1, 15-31.

Bostrom, Nick and Milan Cirkovic. (2011). Global Catastrophic Risks.Oxford University Press.

Hulme, M. (2022). A Critical Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

IPCC. (2014). Synthesis Report. Contribution of working groups I. II and III to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, 151(10.1017).

Benedictow, Ole J. (2005). The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever. Available at https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever.  (Accessed 25 Nov. 2016).

Diamond, Jared M. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking.

IPCC. (2016). “IPCC TRUST FUND PROGRAMME AND BUDGET.” Available at https://www.ipcc.ch/apps/eventmanager/documents/37/010320160933-Doc.%202%20-%20IPCC%20Programme%20and%20Budget.pdf.

Rampino, Michael R., and Stephen Self. (1992). "Volcanic winter and accelerated glaciation following the Toba super-eruption." Nature 359 (6390), 50-52.

Roser, Max and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2017). World Population Growth. Available at

https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth/. (Accessed 16 Jun. 2017).

Oppenheimer, Clive. (2002). “Limited Global Change due to Largest Known Quaternary Eruption, Toba ≈74 kyr BP.” Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, 1593-1609.

Oppenheimer, Michael, et al. (2007). "The limits of consensus." Science Magazine’s State of the Planet 2008-2009: with a Special Section on Energy and Sustainability, 317, 1505-06.

Posner, R. A. (2004). Catastrophe: risk and response. Oxford University Press

United Nations (2022). “UN Documentation: General Assembly Voting.” Available at http://research.un.org/en/docs/ga/voting.

United Nations (1988). “General Assembly resolution 43/53, Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind, A/RES/43/53. Available at http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/43/a43r053.htm.

Footnotes


[1] Key WHO publications cover a broad range of global health topics including: The World Health Report, World Health Statistics, International Travel and Health, International Health Regulations, The International Classification of Diseases, and International Pharmacopoeia. See: “Publications: Key Publications.” World Health Organization. Accessed 23 Sep. 2017. http://www.who.int/publications/en/

[2] Deaths by Country. Available at http://enroll.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/ww2-by-the-numbers/world-wide-deaths.html. (Accessed: 25 Nov. 2016).

[3]The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Available at https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/. (Accessed: 25 Nov. 2016).

[4] https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/ 

[5] http://cser.org 

[6] https://seri.stanford.edu/   

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Interesting idea, thanks for writing this!

How do you think about the risk of this kind of move, modeled loosely after the IPCC for climate change? In particular, that it will make GCR mitigation more like climate change politically?

1. The IPCC emerged / became strong (obviously IPCC was founded in 1988 before the end of the Cold War, but most of its success came after) at a time where there was a lot of appetite for global cooperation and scientific input in environmental policy-making and, despite that, it failed to meaningfully shape the trajectory of climate action.

2. Now we have two trends -- rising geopolitical competition and rising populist anti-globalism -- that would make one expect a framing like "here is the international expert community, let's do it like these globalist elites suggest"  less powerful going forward.

Obviously there is a benefit to knowledge generation and global sensemaking, but this does seem a significant risk to me compared to more country-driven framings to reduce GCRs.

Thanks for this comment! I am definitely in favor of country-level efforts to address GCRs and to produce reports like this one. The same way that the U.S. produces the National Climate Assessment despite there also being IPCC reports. In this case, I think those two efforts are more complimentary than cannibalistic. E.g., folks that work on the National Climate Assessment in the US often also work on the IPCC and doing the work of organizing/prepping for one helps with organizing/prepping for another. And having an international IPGCR effort may also encourage countries to undertake their own national GCR efforts. 

Also, my sense is that the IPCC tends to be more conservative in its findings/statements compared to the National Climate Assessment because it requires a level of buy-in and sign off from its 195 member countries, whereas the National Climate Assessment is produced by a single country. My hypothesis is that a similar dynamic may end up being the case here, where the IPGCR may produce findings that are more conservative than what a single country might produce. But this is still helpful because it gives a sense of which sorts of policies may be palatable globally.

In terms of this effort being a potential cause of political polarization on GCRs, my sense is that in the climate case, the IPCC has not been a driver of the political polarization we've seen. Of course, there has been a lot of political division on climate action, but my sense is that the IPCC itself has played little role in causing this. On the contrary, I've seen the IPCC as playing a major role in effectively establishing a set of basic knowledge (and corresponding levels of confidence, as their findings are always given with a level of confidence) around climate change, that those skeptical of climate action find it hard to argue with. There is a lot more that is less certain those those skeptical of climate action now debate over (e.g. the benefits and costs of climate action, ability to coordinate global policy to overcome free-riding, etc.), but I think the IPCC has been useful in making it difficult to credibly argue with some of the more basic climate knowledge where there is a good deal of consensus. I often here speakers that are skeptical of climate action going out of their way to emphasize that they agree with key findings of the IPCC to avoid seeming unreasonable. 

I see the IPGCR as producing reports that convey areas of consensus, disagreement, and uncertainty among experts from around the world. On a given topic, there might be a lot of uncertainty and disagreement, but there might be some areas where there is perhaps a surprising amount of consensus, and uncovering and convering that information is useful. And if other similar national reports also come to similar findings, that could be helpful in identifying productive areas where progress can be made.

Thanks, Danny!

I think this is a misunderstanding.

I am not saying the IPCC caused polarization by something they did but rather by what they represent:

  1. The IPCC and similar-style organizations can be used by rising populist anti-globalist, referring to an international scientific body as a reason to do something seems politically very risky when the reputation of science and of international institutions is lower than it used to be and a significant part of the electorate actively resents those authorities.

  2. Insofar as the constraint on GCR risk-reduction is broad political support for difficult actions (like, say, constraining AI progress), anchoring / framing demands via something like an IPCGR might be harmful.

I agree that what you’re saying could in principal be a problem, but I don’t think that’s how its actually played out in the case of the IPCC. I think there are many reasons why climate change is a politically polarized issue, and I personally don’t think that the IPCC played a material role in increasing polarization directly or indirectly (and IMO their impact went in the other direction for the reasons I outlined above).

I agree on that. My point is more forward-looking and in terms of counterfactuals: when there is an opportunity to shape an issue now making it institutionally look more like climate with an IPCC-equivalent is risky given the political environment now.

I'd agree that it doesn't seem that the IPCC caused political polarization. My observation is that it has been a victim or target of that polarization (as have most efforts at climate action become subject to polarization attempts). If the IPCC hadn't existed, I think there would still be just as much effort to polarize climate action. There would just be one less target/victim of that polarization.

On the topic of the current political environment and whether it makes sense to create institutions today: It's worth noting that the IPCC isn't the only such institution, and some of these were created much more recently, in a time when, according to this argument, there was more polarization. For example, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has a similar structure to the IPCC, but was created in 2012. It has not been credibly accused, to my knowledge, of polarizing conversations on biodiversity. Rather, it is generally viewed as positively contributing to an understanding of the scientific consensus, and remaining uncertainties, around biodiversity and ecosystem services and the available policy options.

I don't think IPBES is relevant evidence here because ~no one in the US cares about biodiversity as a national policy issue. It has no salience whatsoever, it is not something that can be polarized.

I was wondering whether PhD researchers could get invovled, or will the working groups be drawn from long-standing associate researchers? (I'm developing existential security in a limited nuclear use context for my PhD - probably best understood as a GCR)

Hi Rhys, thanks for the question! Currently, this is just a proposal, and there is no one that I know of who is working on implementing it. But I hope that sharing the idea is useful to folks who may be interested in pursuing the idea or related ideas! Folks should reach out to me if they are interested in pursuing this idea (or taking some nugget of it to inform other ideas)! 

In similarly structured organizations, e.g., the IPCC, there are PhD researchers who are involved as chapter authors (I have a few friends from my PhD program who are IPCC authors). However, the more senior positions (e.g., chapter lead authors) tend to be more senior folks.