More than 40 years ago the economist John Kenneth Galbraith remarked that the world had arrived at the “Age of Uncertainty.” Fast forward to 2019 and human society’s pace of change is ever more rapid. Artificial intelligence, the internet of things, climate change, the rise of China and India, among other factors, have multiplied the challenges and risks. We cannot get back to a less connected world, nor can we dismiss concerns about the major challenges we face. Indeed, technological, social and environmental drivers will transform our world into an even riskier place in 2050 than it already is today.
A key challenge facing humanity is to systematically confront the many risks (meaning, events with uncertain consequences) and to effectively mitigate them by supporting approaches that enable resilient decision-making.
In other words, to ensure that we are on track toward a sustainable future, we urgently need decision-making that allows social-ecological-economic systems to ‘bounce back’ or to become transformed, such that our planet maintains desirable (from a human and planetary perspective) properties.
In a thematic set of papers for Earth’s Future, which originated in a 2016 Bellagio Meeting funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and organized by the FE2W Network, 13 contributions from over 30 authors examine key pathways towards Resilient Decision-making for a Riskier World. The contributions present thematic, theoretical (and model-based), and empirical approaches. Half the papers respond to the risk of climate change, sea-level rise and climatic variations (including droughts), and many connect to water-related risks. Most of the articles provide innovative frameworks for quantifying risks and ways to respond to these risks.
Three major insights emerge from these papers. First, integrated modelling, robust decision-making, methods from the nexus and proven practices offer innovations that can transform ‘business as usual’ into responses to risks.
Second, in the decades to come, a failure to integrate new approaches into the decision-making of public and private sectors could be catastrophic. Third, to successfully face our world’s challenges, we cannot return to a world that no longer exists.
Instead, we need to transform our decision-making, and use innovative and proven methods to deliver a sustainable and resilient world for tomorrow. This will be a long and winding road, but a journey we must make together.