This contributing paper aims to assess how risk, as generally used and developed over several centuries, may not appropriate for the complex systemic and cascading threats now being faced. The refinement of the concept and its application has been about increased precision and accuracy. It argues that global systemic risks do not lend themselves to this approach, and existential risks should not, by definition, be traded off against other objectives – although in current risk assessments decision-makers implicitly trade the future against a continuation of business as usual.
The paper argues that workable alternatives to formal risk assessment processes could include a variation of the precautionary principle, and the application of the idea of limits. The latter certainly applies to existential threats if not to lesser global ones. The study further indicates that the growing level of complexity of the risks today, and the lack of agreement on many dimensions, is unprecedented and requires new approaches.