Emerging Risks in the 21st Century

Emerging Risks in the 21st Century

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24 Apr 2003
9789264101227 (PDF) ;9789264199477(print)

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The 21st Century has so far witnessed a host of large-scale disasters in various parts of the world including: windstorms, flooding, new diseases infesting both humans and animals, terrorist attacks and major disruptions to critical infrastructures. It is not just the nature of major risks that seems to be changing, but also the context in which risks are evolving as well as society’s capacity to manage them.  This book explores the implications of these developments for economy and society in the 21st century, focussing in particular on the potentially significant increase in the vulnerability of major systems.  It concentrates on five large risk clusters: natural disasters, technological accidents, infectious diseases, food safety and terrorism, identifies the challenges facing OECD countries and sets out recommendations for governments and the private sector as to how the management of emerging systemic risks might be improved.

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  • Introduction and Summary

    Every day, people face a variety of risks that may result in damage to what they value: their life, their health, the lives and health of others, their property, or the environment. Some of these risks affect individuals but have only an isolated impact on society – car accidents are an example. Others, however, may be on a much larger scale and their effects may spread much further. This report is concerned with the latter, more specifically, with those risks that affect the systems on which society depends – health, transport, environment, telecommunications, etc. Five categories of such risks are addressed: natural disasters, industrial accidents, infectious diseases, terrorism, and food safety. The report does not deal with systemic risks to markets, notably to financial markets, although some aspects of financial systems are considered in the analysis.

  • Emerging Systemic Risks

    This chapter sets out the scale of the growing problem of emerging systemic risks and the factors underlying their development. The increasing incidence and impact of natural, technological and healthrelated hazards are examined for a number of selected risk areas. This is followed by a review of the main driving forces and prospects for the changing nature and context of risks, which leads to the identification of a set of cross-cutting issues deemed critical for the management of risks in the years to come.

  • Risk Assessment

    This chapter focuses on risk assessment, a scientific process that aims to identify and evaluate each step in the evolution of a hazard, from its origins to its final consequences for the system in question. The process can take a variety of forms depending on the nature of the hazard, the system involved, and the context in which the risk evolves. In past decades a myriad of risk assessment procedures have been developed. Those that are briefly reviewed in this chapter include hazard and risk assessment for natural disasters, using tools ranging from statistical analysis to catastrophe models; toxicity assessment for hazardous substances, based on estimated dose-response relationships; and safety assessments for highly structured systems such as plants or aeroplanes.

  • Risk Prevention

    This chapter is about actions aimed at preventing disaster, or at reducing its consequences before it occurs. In the area of emerging systemic risks, these actions fall into two categories. The first are called "protective strategies" in this report; they have to do with protecting a specific system against hazards or reducing its vulnerability. The second category, "framework conditions", consists of measures to implement and enforce risk prevention, regulate liability and compensation, increase transparency and availability of information, and so on. The chapter highlights the special challenges to prevention which systemic risks pose.

  • Emergency Management

    This chapter is concerned with the response to disaster. It takes a wide, forward-looking view, recognising that an effective response will depend not only on actions immediately prior to, during and in the aftermath of a disaster but also – importantly – on pre-existing plans, structures and arrangements for bringing together the efforts of government and voluntary and private agencies in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way. Since a whole spectrum of emergency needs is involved, such efforts necessarily go well beyond those required to cope with routine emergencies.

  • Recovery Issues

    This chapter focuses on risk management in the aftermath of a disaster. When disaster has struck, and after emergencies have been treated, there is still a lot of scope for minimising the final costs. Society needs to recover from the trauma of disaster as swiftly and smoothly as possible. Liabilities and compensation have to be determined as quickly and equitably as possible. In some cases the availability of affordable insurance coverage needs to be secured. And last but not least, lessons have to be drawn from past inadequacies and failures.

  • Conclusions and Recommendations

    An over-arching conclusion drawn from the analysis in this report is that emerging systemic risks demand a systemic response. This final chapter presents a set of general recommendations for public sector and private sector decision-makers that provide some of the elements for such a response. They are grouped under five major headings: adopting a new policy approach to risk management; developing synergies between the public and private sectors; informing and involving stakeholders and the general public; strengthening international co-operation in all elements of the risk management cycle; and making better use of technological potential and enhancing research efforts.

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