International Risk Governance Council
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Founded in June 2003 at the initiative of the Swiss government, the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) is an independent and neutral organisation whose purpose is to help improve the understanding and management of potentially global risks that have impacts on human health and safety, the environment, the economy and society at large. This involves working to develop concepts of risk governance, anticipating major risk issues and providing risk governance policy advice for key decision-makers.
IRGC focuses in particular on emerging, systemic risks for which governance deficits exist, and aims to provide recommendations for how policymakers can correct these deficits. Many of these risks are complex, uncertain, or even ambiguous. In most cases, the potential benefits and risks interconnect. By facilitating a better understanding of these risks and their scientific, political, social, and economic contexts, IRGC aims to foster improvements in risk governance that will ultimately optimise risk-related decision-making and maximise public trust in governance processes and structures.
Where important, global risks are concerned, IRGC considers it essential that the principles of integrated risk governance become accepted and implemented at the very highest levels of decision-making. It believes that, by combining forces and strengthening their scientific research agendas, governments, industry, international and large non-governmental organisations can achieve more coherent and better science-based policymaking, regulation and risk communication, resulting in implementation of the best possible options for governing global risks.
Areas of concern to IRGC include to:
- Champion ignored, neglected and emerging issues
- Mobilise the creation of risk governance cultures in developed and emerging economies
- Help organisations across the globe anticipate and respond to risks more effectively
- Facilitate scientific and technological innovation
- Slow-developing catastophic risks
- 1 The IRGC Network
- 2 Projects
- 3 Focus and work programme
- 4 Why IRGC was Established
- 5 External links
The IRGC Network
IRGC aims to reach a global community of public and private policymakers while simultaneously ensuring a strong local, contextual and cultural rooting. In order to achieve this aim, IRGC has adopted a decentralised structure and facilitates a network of academic and scientific institutions active in the field of risk governance.
Thanks to the cooperation and knowledge transfer that occurs among its network members, this structure allows IRGC to address the diversity of cultures and contexts, to maximise its impact in terms of geographic outreach, to deal with diverse audiences, and to increase its economic efficiency.
Every network member is an active contributor to IRGC’s work, whether via the provision of funding, expertise, and research work, or a combination of these. In return, members benefit from access to the entire network and the significant pool of knowledge and useful contacts this represents. They also have the opportunity to participate in events (such as international workshops and conferences) organised by the IRGC network, and to influence the further development of IRGC’s activities.
Public and private sector organisations as well as universities and scientific organisations all participate in and benefit from the policy development and specific project work, which is accomplished through coordination and collaboration within the network, at minimal cost.
IRGC’s functions and activities
Network members work with the IRGC Board, Scientific and Technical Council and Director to develop activities, in the context of the following main functions:
- Facilitation of collaborative international activities in the field of risk governance
- International cooperation in education, communication and outreach to decision-makers and others concerned with risk governance
- Development of specific risk governance policy options and recommendations based on substantive analysis
IRGC primarily meets its objectives through projects, the publication and communication of the results of this project work, and the organisation of conferences and workshops where attention is focused on specific risk issues and their governance. IRGC is deliberately inclusive and proactively works at an international level with experts and decision-makers from government, industry, intergovernmental organisations, academia and research institutions, NGOs and other backgrounds. This interactive dialogue between policy makers and other stakeholders can support a deeper understanding of the issues under discussion, promote the development of proposals for new risk governance approaches and allow for areas of agreement - and disagreement - to be identified and explored. These experts and decision-makers may be from within, or external to, the IRGC network. Project work is supervised by the Scientific and Technical Council, which controls scientific quality. It is undertaken mainly by the affiliates in the IRGC network, who may also engage external experts for their specific knowledge and insights, as required. Publications resulting from this project work are all subject to peer review and, once complete, they are communicated to an international audience, with recipients being selected based on their interest in the risk issue in question. IRGC also supports publication by its affiliated partners in scientific and management journals as well as new media.
Focus and work programme
Most of the problem fields prioritised by IRGC are characterised by the scale of their potential impact, their long-term nature and by complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. They all present substantial challenges to those responsible for developing and implementing appropriate policy initiatives, not least because of their global nature and the complicated network of international, governmental and other organisations – including business – responsible for their management.
In particular, IRGC concentrates its attention on ignored or neglected risk issues – issues for which no single organisation, government or company perceives itself as having responsibility and where there is a general lack of interest because the consequences of the risk seem uncertain, remote or without ramifications for stakeholders’ immediate material interests. IRGC tasks itself with bringing these emerging risk issues, along with their potential benefits and potential adverse consequences, to the attention of policymakers and risk practitioners. Examples of past projects include, but are not limited to:
- Risk Governance
- Synthetic Biology
- Pollination Services
- Carbon Capture & Storage
- Critical Infrastructures
- Influenza Pandemic
IRGC Diagnostics: Developing concepts and guidance for improved risk governance
IRGC believes that improvements in risk governance are essential if optimal risk-related decisions are to be made and to maximise public trust in the processes and structures by which they are made.
A permanent feature of IRGC’s programme is project work devoted to developing concepts of risk governance that have relevance across different risk fields, organisations and countries. The first major achievement in this area was the development of *IRGC’s risk governance framework As a follow-up to the framework, an analysis and illustration was made for a number of Risk Governance Deficits. A risk governance deficit is a failure in the identification, framing, assessment, management and communication of a risk issue or of how it is being addressed. As such, it can also be understood as a risk governance challenge. Governance deficits are common. They may be found throughout the risk handling process, and limit its effectiveness. They are actual and potential shortcomings and can be remedied or mitigated. Emerging Risks is another core concept on which IRGC works. IRGC defines as “emerging” a risk that is new, or a familiar risk in a new or unfamiliar context or under new context conditions (re-emerging). Emerging risks are issues that are perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood and assessed, thus not allowing risk management options to be developed with confidence. Project work includes identifying contributing factors and developing an approach to risk emergence.
IRGC is widely recognised for its strong scientific contributions to the field of risk governance through its publications and research workshops. We routinely publish special reports on topical risk governance issues, including:
- Energy Efficiency Policies and the Rebound Effect (2013)
- Improving the Management of Emerging Risks: Risks from new technologies, system interactions and unforeseen or changing circumstances (2011)
- Risk Governance of Maritime Global Critical Infrastructure: The Straits of Malacca and Singapore (2011)
- Guidelines for the appropriate risk governance of synthetic biology (2010)
- Cooling the Earth through solar radiation management; the need for research and an approach to its governance (2010)
- Risk of loss of pollination services (2009)
- Risk governance guidelines for bioenergy policies (2008)
- Appropriate risk governance strategies for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics (2008)
- Regulation of carbon capture and storage (2007)
All IRGC publications are available online for free at the IRGC website.
One of IRGC’s core competencies is our convening capability. We organise a range of events that enable representatives from government, industry, academia, NGOs and other organisations to openly discuss specific risk issues and their governance.
This interactive dialogue between policy makers and other stakeholders can support a deeper understanding of the issues under discussion, promote the development of proposals for new risk governance approaches and allow for areas of agreement – and disagreement – to be identified and explored.
Why IRGC was Established
IRGC was established in 2003 following the heightened level of public concern about the management of risks in the late 1990s. The cumulative impact of several crises, the speed of technological change, and an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters gave the impression that society was losing control over a number of risks. This anxiety compounded concerns over the difficulties facing governments and regulators involved in risk governance, and increased public expectation for effective risk management.
The knowledge community was also encountering difficulties in meeting the demands for factual certainty and in communicating knowledge, as well as uncertainty, to the decision-making community.
Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research
In 2003, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research recommended to the Swiss Parliament that IRGC should be established as an independent and international body to bridge the increasing gaps between science, technological development, decision-makers and the public. This organisation would act as the catalyst for improvements in the design and implementation of effective risk governance strategies. In June 2003 IRGC was formally founded in Geneva as a private foundation under Articles 80 and onwards of the Swiss Civil Code.
From 2003-2012, the State Secretariat, led by Dr Charles Kleiber (chairman of the Board of IRGC 2010-2012) supported IRGC financially as a multi-stakeholder and transfer institution, to enable bridges between science, policy making and the private sector.
Move to EPFL
In June 2012, the IRGC Secretariat has moved to EPFL, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne (Switzerland), which will continue the support previously provided by the Swiss Government. A collaboration agreement has been agreed from 1 January 2013. This strengthened cooperation with academia will allow IRGC to continue and further develop its science-based approach in collaborating closely with scientific experts and in expanding its academic network.
IRGC’s relevance today
More recent events confirm that the issue of risk governance remains of the utmost importance. Losses, both human and economic, continue to increase from natural disasters, outbreak of new viruses, or as consequences of the fragility of critical infrastructures. Global risks also derive from concerns about developing sustainable sources of energy and from the impacts of climate change. All such risks have rippling effects and secondary impacts that exceed the capacity of individual countries to manage them. This reinforces the need for an organisation such as IRGC to develop governance strategies with global validity.
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted Special Consultative Status to IRGC
On July 27, 2012, the ECOSOC granted Special Consultative status to IRGC. The Consultative status enables IRGC to actively engage with ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with the United Nations Secretariat, programmes, funds and agencies, including opportunities to consult with Member States and the United Nations system at large. Consultative status also enables the Council or one of its bodies to seek expert information or advice from IRGC on a subject matter relevant to IRGC’s work.