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What global threats should we be most worried about in 2019?

The Cambridge Global Risk Index for 2019 was presented on 4 December 2018 in the imposing building of Willis Towers Watson in London. The launch event aimed to provide an overview of new and rising risk challenges to allow governments and companies to understand the economic implications of various risks. My interest, as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow working with the (re)insurance sector to better capture the uncertainties embedded in its models, was to find out how the index could help insurance companies to better quantify risks.

The presentation started with the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies giving an introduction on which major world threats are included in the index, followed by a panel discussion on corporate innovation and ideation.

The Cambridge Global Risk Index quantifies the impact future catastrophic events (be they natural or man-made) would have on the world’s economy, by looking at the GDP at risk in the most prominent cities in the world (GDP@Risk). The Index include…
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Cancer and climate change

When I was growing up in Michigan, the man who lived across the street would tell me my dad saved his life. Walt and his wife were surrogate grandparents for my brother and I growing up; our grandparents lived across the country in California. Dad would always disagree about saving Walt’s life, try to deflect, talk about how it’s a team effort and he’s just one part. Walt was always insistent. 

My father is a world-renowned medical physicist. He works on how best to treat cancer with radiation, a pioneer in treating cancer in three dimensions. Hearing his colleagues talk about him, you can tell that he spent his career working primarily on two fronts: to make radiation treatment safer for both patients and the people who work with them, and to make that treatment more effective. My dad has spent his entire life harnessing a field of science with incredible destructive power to save people. 

Radiation physics started, in essence, with death. It was first self-inflicted, as prolonged expo…

COP24: ten years on from Lehman Brothers, we can’t trust finance with the planet

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008. The investment bank’s collapse was the drop that made the bucket of global finance overflow, starting a decade of foreclosures, bailouts and austerity.

The resulting tsunami hit the global economy and public sector, discrediting finance and its attempts to extract large rents from every aspect of the economy, including housing and food. An alternative was urgently needed.

Ten years later, private finance and large investors will play a central role at the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, and in the full implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Representatives from pension funds, insurance funds, asset managers and large banks will attend the meeting and lobby governments, cities and other banks to favour investments in infrastructure, energy production, agriculture and the transition towards a low-carbon economy.
Has finance cleaned up its act? There is a US$2.5 trillion gap in development aid which needs to be filled if poor …

Learning about cascading hazards at the iRALL School in China

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experiences of attending an interdisciplinary workshop in Mexico, and how these approaches foster a rounded approach to addressing the challenges in communicating risk in earth sciences research. In the field of geohazards, this approach is increasingly becoming adopted due to the concept of “cascading hazards”, or in other words, recognising that when a natural hazard causes a human disaster it often does so as part of a chain of events, rather than as a standalone incident. This is especially true in my field of research; landslides. Landslides are, after all, geological phenomena studied by a wide range of “geoscientists” (read: geologists, geomorphologists, remote sensors, geophysicists, meteorologists, environmental scientists, risk assessors, geotechnical and civil engineers, disaster risk-reduction agencies, the list goes on). Sadly, these natural hazards affect many people across the globe, and we have had several shocking reminders in recen…

Teaching controversial subjects in a conservative area

Political polarization, the ever-widening divide between Right and Left in the US, is an obvious problem. We have lost our ability to communicate with one another: using different sets of ‘facts’ to back up our arguments, with the ‘facts’ depending on our side of the political spectrum. The internet has in large part facilitated this fracturing. One can spend 10 minutes on Google to find support for anything that they believe. For example, Youtube videos link to increasingly conspiratorial videos, pushing us farther apart. This loss to our collective conversation is damaging in most arenas, even in the classroom or lecture halls. When a collection of outright lies masquerading as facts meets science, it causes problems. When a student population has firmly-held beliefs in concepts that are simply not true, as a facet of their personal values or beliefs, this presents a difficult and unique challenge for an instructor. I was a visiting assistant professor in a conservative area, dealt…

Courts can play a pivotal role in combating climate change

The international community has widely acknowledged the severe threats posed by the impacts of climate change to a series of human rights, including the rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living. But a stark gap has emerged between this acknowledgement in global climate policy – evidenced by a non-binding clause in the preamble of the Paris Agreement – and their actions to meet promised targets. How can we hold governments accountable to their human rights duties? A Dutch case recently upheld by the appeals court might hold the answer. In June 2015, The Hague District Court and a group of 886 concerned citizens, united by the environmental interest group Urgenda Foundation, made history. This, the first successful climate change case brought on human rights and civil law grounds, saw the Dutch government ordered to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 25% on 1990 levels by the year 2020. Three years on – against a backdrop of intense scrutiny and after a…