Clara Lachman Society, Culture, and Security

The Polycrisis: Behind the Buzzword

Last year, a new buzzword gained significant traction across the international community. Referred to as the “polycrisis,” this key term started circulating across media publications and research institutes before finding its way to the Swiss Alps, where it took center stage.

At the 53rd World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in Davos—a flagship conference dedicated to bringing together leaders across private and public sectors, academia and civil society to discuss world affairs—“polycrisis” quickly emerged as the word of the day as invitees convened to address the theme of Cooperation in a Fragmented World.

During a time of constantly changing trends in response to an ever-evolving global landscape, at first glance it may seem that the term was simply another fad that temporarily took over headlines. However, it is over a year later since Davos and the word is just as pertinent—if anything, with even greater implications today. This article highlights the underlying gravity behind the buzzword and why the international community should continue to pay particular attention to it.

But first, a primer.

The polycrisis refers to a cluster of interconnected crises in which “the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.” Encompassing challenges across geopolitical, environmental, economic, societal and technological sectors, the polycrisis presents a messy web of intertwined issues that feed into one another, “exacerbating already difficult circumstances.”

For its 2023 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum asked over 1,200 experts across its network to rank order global risks threatening the state of the world over a two and ten-year time period. The results revealed that the top risk identified in the short term was the cost of living crisis, whereas over the long-term, environmental and climate-related risks were seen to pose the greatest concern.

This convergence of multiple and simultaneous issues challenging the present-day reality and their ripple effects on the future is what ultimately produces a polycrisis. For example, rather than the prevailing cost of living crisis solely being an affordability issue, it actually becomes a humanitarian emergency when fueled by coinciding threats such as supply chain disruptions, food insecurity, and rising debt.

Furthermore, when layered with other concurring shocks, including cybersecurity threats due to emerging technologies, nuclear warnings as a result of prevailing wars, and declining mental health augmented by COVID-19, the outcome becomes a tangled mess of chaos and complexity, which ultimately threatens the fundamental existence of humanity and the planet at large.

How do we untangle from here?

According to Canadian-American psychotherapist, Dr. Nathaniel Branden, “the first step toward change is awareness.” Acknowledgement of the polycrisis is important because it reveals an important nuance that must be considered in order to initiate progress in navigating the phenomenon.

Due to the fact that, at its core, the polycrisis comprises various interlinked crises, to make meaningful strides in untangling its messiness, each risk cannot be viewed as a separate issue. A new way of thinking must be adopted in which the whole system, rather than its various parts, becomes the focus of attention.

The concept behind the medici effect can play a valuable role here in helping nations come up with innovative solutions to the polycrisis. Coined by author and entrepreneur, Frans Johansson, the theory argues that breakthrough ideas happen at the intersection of diversity. Accordingly, the international community must actively allocate resources towards providing opportunities for various disciplines and sectors to cross-pollinate.

Furthermore, an important element of the polycrisis is its impact on the climate. As such, any and all decisions must actively take Earth into account. Adopting the doughnut economics model developed by economist Kate Raworth can help nations make sustainable progress in advancing the well-being of people and society, while actively operating within planetary boundaries to prevent escalation of environmental risk. Of course, to further support this headway, governments should invest greater resources into interdisciplinary education to ensure economists and policy leaders receive a holistic comprehension of the synergies between climate science, the humanities, and public policy.

Beyond the polycrisis.

While the goal of this article was to underscore the gravity behind the polycrisis, it also aimed to introduce affirmative action that can be taken to move beyond the buzzword and actively start unraveling the world from its prevailing state of entanglement.

As Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago said: “Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.” It is now in the hands of the international community to be bold, brave and courageous and take on the challenge of the polycrisis head-on.

Photo: Chaos Theory & Double Pendulum (2014) by Cristian V., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Clara Lachman
Clara Lachman is a storyteller and Future Generations Voice with an aspiration to contribute to a future of flourishing. At a time when the global world order is fraying, she believes a new story is needed to transition humanity towards a state of global peace, trust and prosperity. In line with her purpose, Clara is currently completing a Junior Research Fellowship with the NATO Association of Canada, writing for the Society, Culture, and Security program. Leveraging her 5+ years of combined experience in public policy, legal studies, and the science of well-being, she takes an innovative approach in intersecting diverse fields to propose policy solutions to contribute to a better tomorrow. In her free time, Clara actively speaks to topics including human and planetary flourishing, the future of democracy and governance, exponential technologies and ethics, meaning 3.0, augmented humanity, and women, peace and security. Clara can be reached at: and