Global Polycrisis, a threat to SDGs, economy

The world has been facing a plethora of crises, which researchers have called a polycrisis. The effects trickle down to economic stability, climate change and other aspects of life. ILLUSTRATION/Ralph Thurm.
The world has been facing a plethora of crises, which researchers have called a polycrisis. The effects trickle down to economic stability, climate change and other aspects of life. ILLUSTRATION/Ralph Thurm.
  • The decline of humanity’s possibilities necessitates collective action.
  • Accumulating long-term stresses are considered by scholars a key structure for more crises to erupt. 
  • Even though polycrisis may only last a short while, there are some long-term processes involved in its causality.

“A global polycrisis occurs when crisis in multiple global systems becomes casually entangled in ways that significantly degrade humanity prospects.

These interacting crises produce harms greater than the sum of those harms the crises would produce in isolation, were the host system not so interconnected,” Dr. Michael Lawrence, Dr. Scott Janzwood and Dr. Thomas Dixon of the Cascade Institute argue in their research paper titled What is Global Polycrisis?

In an online webinar hosted by Earth Journalism Network in honor of World Earth Day, three prominent speakers—Rachel Kyte, Aichar Soogree, and Dr. Michael Lawrence, research lead of the polycrisis project at the Cascade Institute—delved into this recently-popular term.

The conversations made it quite evident that while writing about this topic, a journalist must forgo the conventional reporting strategy of trying to have an angle on one point of view in favor of taking a comprehensive picture of the circumstance. 

To evaluate the repercussions of the numerous crises that have been unfolding, a journalist should visit the area that has been affected.

“The thing about polycrisis is that it is the intersectionality of issues and problems that is actually an opportunity for journalists to stop looking at things in a linear way, because this history just doesn’t happen in a linear way,” says ecofeminist, communication trainer, and coordinator for the Liminality Network, Aichah Soogree on her panel speech.

Even though there isn’t a linear aspect to crises, journalists must try to connect various parts of them. They must also be succinct and avoid including everything because that would be too much information.

Why polycrisis research

We are on the route to hell without food stalk on the accelerator, the secretary general of the United Nations declared in the cop27 in November of last year. 

It is undoubtedly a crucial and fruitful idea that, when understood, can aid in solving some of humanity’s issues. 

The decline of humanity’s possibilities necessitates collective action.

“What I think is happening now is that the understanding that we are on a polycrisis is opposed to side low crisis of climate change of sideload crisis of low economic growth, of high debt of high inflation. I think that the way these crises interplay with each other is forcing a different conversation on how to take off that accelerate peddle,” Rachel Kyte gave her thoughts on the panel debate. 

She is the Former World Bank special envoy for climate change and Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University. 

This harm’s interplay causes more issues than it would if it occurred alone. For instance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended a whole global network, raising concerns about how this conflict has grown so huge.

Intersystem cascades

In 2020, before the epidemic struck, the International Monetary Fund warned that if economies get less and less inclusive, it will be harder to fulfill sustainable global goals.

The economy, health, social order and governance, social security, food, energy, environmental protection, and transportation are among the global systems affected by polycrisis.

History of the concept

According to some scholars, there have been previous global polycrisis, like the Second World War and the OPEC oil shocks of the 1970s, distinguished by qualities like hyper-globalization, planetary boundaries, and biophysical limits.

The concept of polycrisis was first and very briefly introduced by the French philosopher, sociologist, and complexity theorist Edgar Morin and co-author Anne Kern in their 1999 book Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for a New Millennium.

They defined it as interconnected and overlapping crises affecting humanity. 

Research shows a shift in global greatest risks in the next decade. ILLUSTRATION/Statista.

The term polycrisis has been used since then.

In 2013, using the phrase coined by Morin and Kern, South African sociologist Mark Swilling defined it as a “nested set of globally interactive socio-economic, ecological, and cultural-institutional crises that defy reduction to a single cause”. 

According to Swilling, numerous interconnected problems are threatening the global economy, including rising inequality, climate change, and the threat of financial crises (2019; 2013).

In the 2019 special issue of The European Union beyond the Polycriris? Integration and politicization in an age of shifting cleavages, which was a Journal of European Public Policy Series, more recent scholars (2018-2022) have used the phrase to allude to the simultaneous crises facing the European Union, such as the fallout from the global financial crisis of 2007–2009. 

Africa’s take 

There is no comprehensive record of studies conducted on the continent of Africa. 

The situation is connected because Africa is strongly dependent on the Global North, which dominates the global supply chain. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more recently disrupted the world’s supply chain by driving up the cost of food, petrol, and other basic necessities of life.

Ms. Kyte commented on the recent inflation rates and their effects on the Global South. 

“The response of the developed world has been to tackle inflation, and with a set of interest hikes which have proven extremely difficult for many countries in the global south many low income countries as the cost of money has become more expensive,” she said. 

This has caused a debt crisis, with many African countries—more than half the continent—in financial difficulties. 

Therefore, these nations that must make investments in their capacity to care for their citizens in terms of health, education, and social spending must also make investments in their resilience to climate change and the development of clean infrastructure to meet their needs and have the resources necessary to withstand climate change.

Considering the increased vulnerability, more African nations have significant public debts, and for those avoiding this, like the Kenyan government, it implies that more taxes will be levied against its citizens, as is already the case, for the government to be able to pay its debts and meet its demands.

Temporary or enduring?

Accumulating long-term stresses are considered by scholars a key structure for more crises to erupt. 

These long-term processes include resource scarcity, environmental degradation, demographic change, growing global interdependence, and shifting belief systems.

Even though polycrisis may only last a short while, there are some long-term processes involved in its causality.

A disruption of the initial system may have a spillover impact that disrupts adjacent systems. 

An unforeseen problem emerges in one area of the system and swiftly spreads to disturb the entire system. 

These are the two key characteristics of system risks that are adopted by polycrisis.

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However, there are many ways in which the two are different, but primarily systematic risks are concerned with the potential for harm to occur, whereas polycrisis is the actualization of those possibilities into a series of global events.

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Ms. Loise is a Communication Specialist with a bachelor's degree in Publishing and Media Science from Moi University, Kenya. She is a dedicated web developer and a climate change and environment writer. She also owns diverse skills in social media marketing. Her contact: loiselenser@gmail.com

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