IPCC puts risk reduction at centre of climate debate

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC
 
By Denis McClean

GENEVA, 21 November 2011 - The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put disaster risk reduction at the centre of the climate change debate with the weekend publication of its Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (IPCC SREX).

For the first time, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a report which includes an in-depth examination of the important role that non-climatic factors play in determining disaster impacts with a focus on vulnerability and population exposure as critical issues which need to be addressed.

The report was first mooted when Norway introduced a proposal, prepared with UNISDR, at the 29th Session of the IPCC held in Geneva in September 2008.

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said in Kampala, Uganda, following four days of negotiation among IPCC member governments: “This summary for policymakers provides insights into how disaster risk management and adaptation may assist vulnerable communities to better cope with a changing climate in a world of inequalities.

“It also underlines the complexity and diversity of factors that are shaping human vulnerability to extremes – why for some communities and countries these can become disasters whereas for others they can be less severe.”

Chris Field, an IPCC Working Group Co-Chair said: “We hope this report can be a scientific foundation for sound decisions on infrastructure, urban development, public health, and insurance, as well as for planning – from community organizations to international disaster risk management.”

The full Report which will be issued early next year states that, due to the increase of greenhouse gases, it is virtually certain that increases in the frequency of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur throughout the 21st century on a global scale.

It is also very likely – 90% to 100% probability – that heat waves will increase in length, frequency, and/or intensity over most land areas.

According to Qin Dahe, an IPCC Working Group Co-Chair: “Changes in other extremes, such as more intense and longer droughts are observed in some regions, but the assessment assigns medium confidence due to a lack of direct observations and a lack of agreement in the available scientific studies.”

There is evidence that drought will intensify over the coming century in southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, central Europe, central North America, Central America and Mexico, north-east Brazil, and southern Africa.

Another Working Group Co-Chair, Thomas Stocker, said: “For the high emissions scenario, it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of ten in most regions of the world. Likewise, heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease.”

Vincente Barros, another Working Group Co-Chair, pointed out: “There are many options for decreasing risk. Some of these have been implemented but many have not. The best options can provide benefits across a wide range of possible levels of climate change.”

The Summary highlighted a number of specific examples including exposure and vulnerability to droughts in the context of food security in West Africa where less advanced agricultural practices render the region vulnerable to drought and weather extremes.

In this context, low regrets options for risk management include traditional rain and groundwater harvesting and storage systems; water demand management and improved irrigation; increasing use of drought-resistant crop varieties; crop rotation; early warning systems; and risk pooling at the regional or national level.

In one example there is a focus on small island states in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans vulnerable to rising sea levels and a likely increase in tropical cyclone wind speeds. In some cases, there may be a need to consider relocation and low regrets options include well technologies to limit saltwater contamination of groundwater, mangrove conservation and maintenance of drainage systems.

Another scenario looks at flash floods in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya where “Rapid expansion of poor people living in informal settlements around Nairobi has led to houses of weak building materials being constructed immediately adjacent to rivers and to blockage of natural drainage areas, increasing exposure and vulnerability.”

Options suggested for risk management include: strengthening building design and regulation; poverty reduction schemes; and city-wide drainage and sewerage improvements.
Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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