Great Opportunities in the Face of Catastrophic Risks

A statement by leading Australians on the need to prepare ourselves for an uncertain future around the world



Governments, corporations, businesses and communities are preparing for a radically different future, in which human civilization confronts major threats – but also encounters boundless new opportunities.

We all now face a set of human-driven catastrophic risks that threaten global and national security, prosperity and potential. In the worst case, these risks spell mass harm, up to and including human extinction. They include:

  • Emerging scarcity of key resources including water, soil, fertiliser, forests, wild fish, certain minerals

  • Pandemics of new and antibiotic resistant diseases

  • Growing insecurity in the global food system, leading to conflict and mass migration.

  • The mass extinction of wildlife around the planet and the decline and loss of key ecosystem services that support and sustain human life

  • The continuing overpopulation of Earth by the human species and its demands

  • The rising threat of global nuclear war, from powerful new weapons of mass destruction, many of them robotic

  • The emergence of potent new super technologies over which society has little control

  • The universal pollution of the Planet by human chemical emissions, harming both our health and the survival of other forms of life

  • The growing impacts of a changing climate, including famine, mass migration and war.

  • The widespread delusion that we can ignore these consequences of human actions.

The likelihood that several of these risks will combine in catastrophic consequences is still relatively low. However their likely scale and severity imposes an obligation on all governments, industries and communities to take early precautionary action.

At the same time, in all such risks lie great opportunities for a nation with a high level of awareness, creativity, ingenuity and determination. The key to this is a clear-sighted understanding of the challenges we face, a realistic appreciation of the scale of our risk, the brains to overcome it in a well-planned and integrated fashion – and the skill to capitalise on the major opportunities it holds.

Australia has exceptional skills in fields such as novel food systems, water management, regenerative farming, low-impact mining, recycling of scarce resources, climate adaptation, healthcare, science and education. We have a population with many of the skills, talents and qualities we need to grasp such a chance. What we lack is a shared view of both the threats and the opportunities, and a national plan to carry us forward.

Australia can be an international leader in making ours a safer, more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous world. Further information at www.australia21.org.au/survival-matters/ and www.humansforsurvival.org.

The undersigned call on the governments of Australia and on all political parties, corporations and community organisations to get behind the development of a national plan to prepare for catastrophic risk – and seize the opportunities.

Elements of this plan include:

  • a high level roundtable of national experts and stakeholders in Parliament House Canberra , to address the question: “How can Australia develop a national plan for managing interacting catastrophic risks and exploiting the opportunities they offer?”

  • a new independent national commission with a whole-of-government view of both catastrophic risk and opportunity to oversee policy development.

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Australia21 is an independent, not for profit think tank. We promote fair, sustainable and inclusive public policy through evidence-based research.

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