Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
XML PDF e-pub
PDF e-Pub

Section: Research Program

Global systemic risks

Modern societies are characterized by a very high level of global interconnections between many sectors of economic, social and political activity, as well as by the environmental impacts produced by these activities and their consequences for human societies themselves. The resulting generalized interdependences induce intrinsic, or "systemic", risks of instability. These risks constitute serious threats for the global socio-ecological system, and the issue of a potential global collapse is part of the threats to be analyzed.

Global systemic risks directly relate to the STEEP team project, i.e., the question of sustainability at various spatial scales. The ability of socio-ecosystems, local communities, nation States and the international community to address these risks is a key factor in a sustainability perspective. However, the topic of global systemic risks was not until recently within the scope of the research activity of the team.

Within academia, the activity of several research institutes is devoted to these risks, with a strong contribution of social sciences. The most representative are probably the Global Systemic Risk Institute of Princeton (, the Center for Risk Studies of Cambridge (UK) Cambridge (, and the Risk Center of Zürich ( Various teams are also active on these themes, but with a more sectorial focus.

From the point of view of the main processes at work, global systemic risks can be grouped into two categories

  1. Risks related to long term mean trends (several decades). For the most part, they are generated by the growing tension between our use of resources and pollution production and our (semi)-natural environment capacity to absorb the associated impacts. They also emerge from the back-reaction of these environmental changes on socio-ecosystems. These risks are underlined and amplified by specific historical, socio-politic and economic dynamics.

  2. Risks related to systemic contagion effect, on much shorter terms (weeks or months), but sporadic and random. This type of risk is directly driven by the high level of interconnection of various large scale human activities, to intrinsic instabilities whose very existence is directly tied to these interconnections, and to the potential propagation of these instabilities in all sectors of activity, in a domino-like effect. These risks are amplified by current geopolical dynamics and by the deepening of the various environmental crises.

In such a context, and due to its areas of expertise, the STEEP team has a nearly unique ability and opportunity to make a significant contribution to these questions, most particularly on the modelling front.

The World3 model is without any doubt the most representative of the first category of risks. It was developed by Meadows and coworkers for their famous report on the limits to growth [18], [20]. The reinvestigation by [22], [23] and re-discussion by [13] have renewed the interest for this model, while raising more pinpointed questions on the robustness and validity of the conclusions drawn from it. We have started to address these questions on three different fronts:

  1. Through an analysis of the parameterization choices performed in the mode. In practice the team has undertaken a sensitivity analysis that is substantially more comprehensive than previous attempts in this direction.

  2. Through an analysis of the modelling choices performed by the Meadows group. This will consist in a partial sectoral and spatial disaggregation of the model.

  3. Through some elements of epistemological analysis.

As a matter of fact, two internships have already been devoted to the sensitivity analysis of the model. This is now pursued through a PhD thesis, started last Fall. The student (Mathilde Duplessix) will also address the other two points in the course of her PhD.

The main practical interest of this work is related to the possibility of distinguishing a potential onset of collapse in the first or second half ot the century. These two broad options imply different mitigation/adaptation strategies, that need to be correctly anticipated.

On the front of systemic contagion risks, and although a comprehensive analysis of the whole range of potential risks is impossible in an exploratory phase, the nexus energy/finance/supply chains plays a particular role in our societies and present a specific level of criticity. Some sectorial (and even cross-sectorial) aspects of this nexust have been discussed in the literature (e.g., [16], [17], [14]), but apparently no global, generic has been produced so far. Such a model would constitute by itself a remarkable breakthrough in this topic.

Funding for these research objectives has been obtained this year, in the form of an Inria “Action Exploratoire” project which officially starts in January 2020. This funding covers a PhD (Louis Delannoy, starting in January 2020) and a post-doctoral position (scheduled to start in 2021).