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Overview: Security and risk

Global challenges like climate change, food security and poverty radically affect our lives as they influence the outcomes of things beyond any one individual’s control. Careful consideration is needed about how to manage access to increasingly scarce resources and who should be making key decisions about these challenges, to avoid insecurity and conflict.

Science can make a major contribution to addressing global challenges. The Royal Society works closely with government and international bodies on addressing nuclear, chemical, biological, cyber and environmental risks, and identifying emerging threats.

Nuclear security

The Society has advised governments about nuclear arms control and multilateral disarmament. In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we produced a report on ways the scientific community can support control and disarmament.

As countries consider the role of nuclear power to help meet their energy needs, new challenges are posed for nuclear security. In 2011 we advised how to manage the nuclear fuel cycle to reduce the security risks and the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Chemical and biological security

Science and technology are central to reducing the threat from chemical and biological agents, and the Society has a long history of advising governments on their control.

We have produced guidance on the detection and decontamination of chemical and biological agents and our experts have advised policymakers on enforcing international biological and chemical weapons conventions and the implications of developments in science and technology for these conventions.

Our report Brain Waves 3: Neuroscience, conflict and security explored the possibility of developments in neuroscience leading to new weapons, particularly incapacitating chemical agents. We called on neuroscientists to be more aware of how knowledge and technologies used for beneficial purposes can also be misused for harmful purposes.

Advances in the life sciences and biotechnologies, such as DNA sequencing and synthesis, may also result in new biological risks. Our joint workshop with the International Council for the Life Sciences covered how risks from dual use research, laboratory accidents and deliberate actions can be minimised. A paper we published on the transnational governance of synthetic biology calls for a flexible, transparent and evolving ‘art of governance’ to foster good science.

Cyber security

We are currently reviewing challenges for cybersecurity research such as those around privacy, security and trust. The final report will be published in 2015.

Disaster risk reduction

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, floods, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and disease pandemics, and technological disasters such as the breakdown of dams and levees, energy systems and information networks, impose huge social and economic costs.

Climate change in particular will affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves. Our report Resilience to extreme weather gives advice on how communities can protect themselves from these hazards.

In conjunction with other science academies we have advised governments to follow a systems approach to building resilience, based on scientific risk surveillance and ranking.

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