The existential risk space of climate change

Huggel, C., Bouwer, L.M., Juhola, S., Mechler, R. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2239-1578, Muccione, V., Orlove, B., & Wallimann-Helmer, I. (2022). The existential risk space of climate change. Climatic Change 174 (1-2) e8. 10.1007/s10584-022-03430-y.

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Abstract

Climate change is widely recognized as a major risk to societies and natural ecosystems but the high end of the risk, i.e., where risks become existential, is poorly framed, defined, and analyzed in the scientific literature. This gap is at odds with the fundamental relevance of existential risks for humanity, and it also limits the ability of scientific communities to engage with emerging debates and narratives about the existential dimension of climate change that have recently gained considerable traction. This paper intends to address this gap by scoping and defining existential risks related to climate change. We first review the context of existential risks and climate change, drawing on research in fields on global catastrophic risks, and on key risks and the so-called Reasons for Concern in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We also consider how existential risks are framed in the civil society climate movement as well as what can be learned in this respect from the COVID-19 crisis. To better frame existential risks in the context of climate change, we propose to define them as those risks that threaten the existence of a subject, where this subject can be an individual person, a community, or nation state or humanity. The threat to their existence is defined by two levels of severity: conditions that threaten (1) survival and (2) basic human needs. A third level, well-being, is commonly not part of the space of existential risks. Our definition covers a range of different scales, which leads us into further defining six analytical dimensions: physical and social processes involved, systems affected, magnitude, spatial scale, timing, and probability of occurrence. In conclusion, we suggest that a clearer and more precise definition and framing of existential risks of climate change such as we offer here facilitates scientific analysis as well societal and political discourse and action.

Item Type: Article
Research Programs: Advancing Systems Analysis (ASA)
Advancing Systems Analysis (ASA) > Systemic Rick and Resilience (SYRR)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2022 06:11
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2022 06:11
URI: https://pure.iiasa.ac.at/18228

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