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Risk governance is a systemic approach to decision making processes associated to natural and technological risks, based on the principles of cooperation, participation, mitigation and sustainability, adopted to achieve more effective risk management, that is convergent with other public and private policies. It seeks to reduce risk exposure and vulnerability by filling gaps in risk policy, in order to avoid or reduce human and economic costs caused by disasters.
As described by the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC), risk governance can be further elaborated upon as follows:
Governance refers to the actions, processes, traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised and decisions are taken and implemented. Risk governance applies the principles of good governance to the identification, assessment, management and communication of risks. It incorporates such criteria as accountability, participation and transparency within the procedures and structures by which risk-related decisions are made and implemented.
Risk accompanies change. It is a permanent and important part of life and the willingness and capacity to take and accept risk is crucial for achieving economic development and introducing new technologies. Many risks, and in particular those arising from emerging technologies, are accompanied by potential benefits and opportunities. Better risk governance implies enabling societies to benefit from change while minimising the negative consequences of the associated risks.
Many complex risks are systemic and potentially global. They are not confined to national borders; they cannot be managed through the actions of a single sector. The governance of global, systemic risks thus requires cohesion between actors and multi-stakeholder approaches within governments, business, science and civil society.
Challenges of Risk Governance
There are specific challenges in modern society to deal appropriately with risk and to manage it effectively. IRGC summarizes some of these challenges, explaining that “today’s globalised world is characterised by increasing interconnectedness, social networking, a burgeoning volume of data and fast-paced technological change. While these characteristics offer numerous and substantial benefits for communication, economic development and societal innovation, they also have the potential to increase vulnerabilities and to create new risks with impacts on a much larger scale, and sometimes over a longer time-span, than ever before. Because the evolution of governance mechanisms that can be effective at such a scale (or on an international level) occurs much more slowly than the processes driving technological and social change, there are serious concerns from governments, the private sector, as well as the general public about the lack of governance mechanisms to efficiently deal with risks such as climate change and biodiversity loss; to resolve trade-offs between diverse, sometimes conflicting, needs and interests (such as those that have encouraged the development of biofuel production); or to deal with potential risks from new technologies in the context of global trade (for example, nanoparticles and food additives). Policymakers have subsequently become increasingly conscious of the importance of risk communication and of meeting public expectations. There are concerns about how to deal with certain social dynamics and conflicts related to how science, technology, social and economic developments are governed.”
- Ortwin Renn. Risk Governance: Coping with Uncertainty in a Complex World. Earthscan, London. 2008.
- Ortwin Renn. Risk Governance. Towards an integrative approach. International Risk Governance Council, Geneva. 2005.
- Urbano Fra Paleo (ed.). Building Safer Communities. Risk Governance, Spatial Planning and Responses to Natural Hazards. IOS Press, Amsterdam. 2009.
- International Risk Governance Council, Summary Information