This Briefing Note represents an integrated perspective of climate, environmental and disaster risk science and practice regarding systemic risk. It provides an overview of the concepts of systemic risk that have evolved over time and identifies commonalities across terminologies and perspectives associated with systemic risk used in different contexts. Key attributes of systemic risk are outlined without prescribing a single definition, and information and data requirements that are essential for a better and more actionable understanding of the systemic nature of risk are discussed. Finally, the opportunities to connect research and policy for addressing systemic risk are highlighted, followed by recommendations for future work in science, policy and practice on systemic risk. The Briefing Note is based on insights and knowledge gained from an expert workshop, literature review and expert elicitation.
Systemic risk is associated with cascading impacts that spread within and across systems and sectors (e.g. ecosystems, health, infrastructure and the food sector) via the movements of people, goods, capital and information within and across boundaries (e.g. regions, countries and continents). The spread of these impacts can lead to potentially existential consequences and system collapse across a range of time horizons. Globalization contributes to systemic risk affecting people worldwide. The impacts of climate change or COVID-19 show how the challenges of addressing systemic risk go beyond conventional risk management and governance. Critical system interdependencies, amplified by underlying vulnerabilities, highlight that there is a growing need to better understand cascading impacts, systemic risks and the possible political (governance) and societal responses. This includes improving our understanding of the root causes of systemic risk, both biophysical and socio-economic, and related information needs. Addressing contemporary challenges in terms of systemic risk requires integrating different systems perspectives and fostering system thinking, while implementing key intergovernmental agendas, such as the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.