Response to Our Common Agenda Policy Brief 2: “Strengthening the International Response to Complex Global Shocks – An Emergency Platform”

· 4 min read

The Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) of the United Nations is publishing a series of policy briefs to inform the Our Common Agenda processes. On March 9th 2023, EOSG published its first two policy briefs on Future Generations and The Emergency Platform.

The Simon Institute for Longterm Governance teamed up with Riesgos Catastróficos Globales to review the policy briefs and provide substantial input to contribute to the impact of these efforts. 

General comments on the Emergency Platform

The Emergency Platform could be a valuable mechanism to help coordinate complex global shocks that require inter-institutional cooperation and urgent decision-making that can respond to complex crises, and prevent shock cascades.

We take very seriously the concerns raised by certain Member States during the presentation of an Emergency Platform, including the risk of duplication of processes and the need for more clarity regarding its trigger. We hope that through consultations and an updated proposal that carefully takes these concerns into consideration, Member States will adopt the proposal of an Emergency Platform. As the Covid-19 Pandemic has highlighted, the current multilateral system is not equipped to react fast and in a coordinated manner to global crises. An Emergency Platform would be a significant step in preparing the world to face future shocks.

This mechanism would complement and coordinate the actions of regional and sectoral organizations, unlocking cross-systems capacity and support without impeding on the mandates of existing institutions. We encourage the Emergency Platform to empower existing institutions to act during crises rather than replace them. The Emergency Platform should in particular coordinate with funding mechanisms to provide rapid and effective resource allocation.

The Emergency Platform should be developed soon, as the rate of global crises is likely increasing. Its protocols should be carefully crafted to quickly and aptly address global crises. 

While an Emergency Platform could be instrumental in addressing global shocks, it is reactive in nature. It is essential to complement this mechanism with prevention mechanisms, particularly regarding existential risks, which by definition, cannot be reacted to. Such mechanisms should be considered in separate proposals to ensure that the Emergency Platform mandate remains narrow and effective.

Practical suggestions for the Emergency Platform

The policy brief on the Emergency Platform cites types of global shocks to address, such as large-scale climate disruptions or future pandemics. This list should be complemented with risks from artificial intelligence and abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios, such as volcanic or nuclear winters. Most importantly, the Emergency Platform should not over-focus on selected types of crises such that it can preserve its flexibility in the future. 

The risk governance assessment framework of the International Risk Governance Center could provide a conceptual basis to determine when to trigger the protocols of the Emergency Platform. The protocols should also account for shocks that may be slow-moving and thus barely noticeable for a long-time and impossible or extremely costly to respond to when they manifest. 

The protocols of the Emergency Platform should be easy to operationalize. We, therefore, recommend a reconceptualization of “complex global shock” as a function of reach (how many individuals and sectors are affected) and severity (how badly they are affected), making “complexity” and “scale” redundant, and allowing for an easier quantification of systemic risks.

For the key principles of the Emergency Platform, we recommend simplifying them into three principles to reduce possible confusion: committed, integrated, and agile. Commitment requires accountability and resourcing; while integration necessarily requires multisector coordination, interdisciplinarity, solidarity and inclusion.

Complementing the Emergency Platform with prevention 

To complement the work of the Emergency Platform, the Futures Lab could conduct the necessary monitoring to forecast potential future shocks and important decisions to be made. In case of urgency, it could then convene a preventative decision-making platform to analyze trade-offs and facilitate the convergence of stakeholders for proactive prevention.

The international community must recognize the potential of Global South countries to take a leading role in preventing and mitigating global shocks, as well as innovating in priority areas. For example, Latin America could become a leading region for responding to an abrupt sun-reducing scenario in which the atmosphere is clouded by a large amount of particulate matter causing multi-year reductions in global temperature which could lead to an agricultural collapse.

Member states should invest in improving risk assessment capacities, particularly in low and middle-income countries, in a cost-effective way and promote appropriate and efficacious methodologies to respond to catastrophic tail risks that could cause global disaster.