Ten threats to humanity's survival identified in Australian report calling for action

An artistic depiction of the world map in purple and red.
22 April 2020

Governments should use the urgency of the Covid-19 pandemic to address 10 potentially catastrophic threats to the survival of the human race, according to a report by a collection of prominent Australian researchers and public figures.

The report by a group called the Commission for the Human Future identifies a list of risks to life on the planet including pandemic disease, climate change, environmental decline and extinction, and overpopulation.

It says the coronavirus pandemic is the right time for countries to consider how they will address these major challenges that have the potential to cause widespread social, environmental and economic disruption. It argues they are interconnected and must be solved simultaneously and “in ways that make none of them worse”.

The Commission for the Human Future is an organisation of researchers and citizens focused on global challenges for humanity, including ecological collapse, food insecurity and war and conflict. It was established following a workshop on existential risks held by the Australian National University in 2017 and its members include the formal Liberal party leader John Hewson, who is its chair, public health academics Sharon Friel and Bob Douglas and the climate scientist Mark Howden.

The report, published on Wednesday, is the outcome of its first roundtable. Hewson said the global pandemic had brought other risks to civilisation into sharper focus and showed how “vulnerable and unprepared” societies were.

“At present, no government in the world has a plan for meeting all these risks, for dealing with them as a total system and for finding the best and safest way out of them,” he said. “This lack of preparedness means humanity will continue to be ambushed by unforeseen crises.”

The 10 threats are climate change, environmental decline and extinction, nuclear weapons, resource scarcity (including water scarcity), food insecurity, dangerous new technologies, overpopulation, chemical pollution, pandemic disease, and denial and misinformation.

“What our species does about these 10 existential threats in the next few years will determine whether present and future generations face a safe, sustainable and prosperous future or the prospect of collapse and even extinction,” the report says.

“It is a choice we all must make, together.”

Read the full article on The Guardian Australia website, featuring commentary by Dr John Hewson and Dr Arnagretta Hunter