Increasing exposure of people and assets has been the major cause of changes in disaster losses - 2010 Pakistan Floods, 6 million left homeless
By Denis McClean
GENEVA, 25 November 2011
- Following agreement on the Summary for Policymakers, the authors of the 800-page Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) will be busy between now and the end of the year reconciling the changes agreed by IPCC member governments to the Summary with the text of the nine final chapters which will make up the SREX when it is published early next year.
As they prepared to embark on the so-called “trickle back” process, here’s what some of them had to say about the significance of the SREX once the Summary was agreed on at the IPCC meeting in Kampala last week.
Prof. Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz, Professor of Earth Sciences at the Polish Academy of Science who is a Coordinating Lead Author on Chapter 4 dealing with the Impacts of Climate Extremes on Human Systems, said: “Exposure is growing and will be growing. There is no question that sea level rise will increase exposure because so many people are living by the sea. Sea level rises are a guarantee in a warming climate. So coastal flooding is inevitable with the increase of the risk.
“Problems with fresh water are getting more severe. Too much of it brings floods, too little of it, drought. Clearly the report sends a very serious and unfortunate message to many world regions where droughts are getting more severe, the Mediterranean, Central Europe, Southern Africa, North-East Brazil and the southern part of North America.
“Heat waves are on the rise everywhere. What used to be a one-in-20 year event will become every year or every second year in nearly all regions by the end of the century. This is a very strong message. The trend is quite clear, less cold extremes and more hot extremes. For aging European societies this is very bad news.”
An acknowledged expert on floods, Prof. Kundzewicz said he was very concerned about Bangladesh in particular where coastal and river flooding is “endemic”.
Prof. Ian Burton who is Coordinating Lead Author on Chapter 7 which focuses on lnternational Management of Disaster Risk, commented that the Summary for Policymakers “helps to move disaster risk reduction a step or two up the international agenda. DRR has been trying to escape from the traditional view of disasters which is that they were local, caused by natural events, acts of God beyond human control. And you still see that view widely reflected in media reports.
“Linking disasters to climate change adaptation has helped push forward thinking about disasters so that the event itself cannot be viewed in isolation. The size of the losses and the cause of the disaster are dependent on human decisions.
“This report says that human decisions in two areas are important. One is exposure which means putting more people in harm’s way which means all kinds of dangerous places, flood plains, hillsides and coasts. People don’t have to live there but historically decisions have been made.
“And the second thing is vulnerability. You can build in an earthquake zone but it must be earthquake-proof. In other cases, you have to think about building which is flood-proof or wind-resistant to reduce the damage. Exposure to geo-physical events can be avoided but not eliminated.”
Prof. Virginia Murray, a Co-ordinating Lead Author on Chapter 9 which includes the case studies, said: “The science and evidence base of this report is vital for UNISDR. It meets all three criteria for a good report: useful, usable and used. What we need now is for each National Platform and the Hyogo Framework for Action focal points to take this forward in their own countries and identify the parts of the report that are useful for them and that can influence development.”
Prof. Richard Klein, a lead author and senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said that the report highlights the importance of addressing socio-economic factors that compound vulnerability to disasters and climate extremes.
“The disaster following Hurricane Katrina was not due only (or even primarily) to the strength of the storm or the failure of the levees, but also to social inequalities and poor disaster preparedness,” said Prof. Klein.
This has major implications for climate finance, Klein said, because “any money mobilised for adaptation or risk reduction will have only limited effect on people’s vulnerability if the underlying causes are not addressed – linked to factors such as wealth, education, race, religion, gender, age and health status.”
Klein is a lead author of the report chapter “Managing the Risks: International Level and Integration Across Scales,” for which he reviewed the role of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in advancing climate change adaptation and disaster risk management, and assessed how existing and new international finance mechanisms could strengthen efforts to reduce vulnerability, especially in developing countries.
One of the chapter’s findings, Klein noted, is that stronger international efforts will not necessarily lead to substantive and rapid results at the local level, because there is a need for greater integration. There is also a pressing need to integrate adaptation with socio-economic development, he said, both within the UNFCCC and in individual countries.
“There are very few examples of effective integration of adaptation and development,” he said. “And even though investment in disaster risk reduction pays off, the separation between adaptation and development means that finance flows are often separate as well, so potential synergies between adaptation and disaster risk reduction are missed.”