The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change is a body of the United Nation responsible for studying climate change and designing a global response to it. From time to time, IPCC publishes its latest findings in its annual reports. This Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change dives into the challenges of understanding and managing the risks of climate disasters that have social and economic impacts. It also focusses on the opportunities for managing these climate risks and looks at strategies to adapt to climate change.
The exposure and vulnerability to climate change are the key determinants of disaster risk. Extreme impacts on human and ecological systems can result from extreme weather conditions. These weather conditions can significantly affect livelihood and resources in exposed areas and can also affect vulnerability to prepare for and respond to future disasters. A changing climate leads to various changes in ecosystems like changes in frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events.
How severe the impacts of climate events can depend on the level of vulnerability and exposure to these events. There is evidence that extreme climate changes can cause huge losses. Livelihoods, economies, ecosystems, and countries on a whole will all be affected by extreme climate change. The report considers these adverse impacts of climate change that cause widespread damage and alterations to the normal functioning of societies and communities. It also focuses on disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change, and on reducing exposure and vulnerability to the potential adverse impacts of climate extremes.
Some of the major inferences of this report are described below:
Observations of Exposure, Vulnerability, Climate Extremes, Impacts, and Disaster Losses
Individuals and communities are all exposed differently based on various factors like different levels of wealth and education, disability, and health status. Different settlement patterns, urbanization, and changes in social and economic conditions have also influenced exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes. For example, settlements on coastal islands are exposed to climate extremes in both developed and developing countries. Rapid urbanization has led to the emergence of vulnerable communities particularly due to inadequate and management.
Since 1950, when climate trends were first studied, there is evidence that climate has changed to certain extremes. Although little data is available to make these assessments, certain recurring observations were noted. The report states that it is very likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights since 1950 and an increase in the number of warm days and nights. This is likely to have occurred in North America, Europe, and Australia. There is medium confidence in the fact that there is a warming trend that is occurring in daily temperatures in many parts of Asia. In Africa and South America, temperature extremes vary from low to medium depending on the region. There is also medium confidence that the length and number of heatwaves have increased and so has the amount of rain in heavy precipitation areas. There is medium confidence that some regions have experienced more intense droughts and others have experienced a higher frequency of floods. Furthermore, there is low confidence at the global scale regarding the signs of these changes due to the low evidence collected to prove these trends.
Something that has high confidence is the fact that economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters have increased. Estimated annual losses have ranged from a few billion dollars in 1980 to over 200 billion dollars in 2010, with the highest value being for 2005 (during Hurricane Katrina).
Studies prove that economic losses associated with climate disasters are higher in developed countries and fatality rates are higher in developing countries. From 2000 to 2008, Asia experienced the highest number of extreme climate-related disasters and the Americas suffered the most economic losses due to extreme weather conditions. The Americas accounted for monetary losses due to climate change as 54.6% of the global economic losses, followed by Asia which accounted for a loss of 27.5% and Europe at 15.9%. Although these estimates do not take into consideration the loss of ecosystems services, cultural heritage, and human lives as they are difficult to monetize. From 2001 to 2006, middle-income countries had losses amounting to about 1% of the GDP; low-income countries had losses amounting to less than 0.3% of GDP and high-income countries had losses amounting to less than 0.1%. In the period between 1970 and 2008, over 95% of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing countries.
Vulnerability is a key factor in climate disaster losses, as settlement patterns, urbanization, and changes in social and economic conditions have all been influenced by climate extremes. Apart from people, transportation, infrastructure, water, and tourism are all sectors that are exposed to climate extremes. An increase in floods and storm surge can lead to road damages and electricity infrastructure damages. The tourism sector relies heavily on seasonality and is, therefore, is sensitive to climate changes.
Agriculture is also vulnerable to climate changes as the economies of several developing countries relies heavily on its agriculture. Droughts in Africa and India have severely impacted farming and agriculture. This will have a greater impact on food security, health, and forestry, as the demand for food will soon exceed the supply.
Disaster Risk Management and Adaptation to Climate Change: Past Experience with Climate Extremes
Trends in exposure and vulnerability are major drivers of change in disaster risk management. An understanding of both the nature of exposure and vulnerability is essential to determining how weather and climate events contribute to the occurrence of disasters, and for designing and implementing effective risk management strategies. High exposure is usually the result of skewed development processes like unplanned urbanization, governance failures, scarcity of livelihood options, etc. This mainly occurs due to the lack of data available at the local level, which hinders improvements and developments. This challenge to assess, understand and respond to climate extremes is why humanitarian relief is often required to cope with disaster risk reduction.
Smaller countries face larger challenges in providing relief and reconstruction post-disaster. When the emphasis is placed on rapidly reconstructing infrastructure and rehabilitating livelihoods, ways can be found to decrease vulnerabilities, enhance resilience, and move towards more sustainable development. Since national systems are at the core of a countries ability to deal with extreme climates. Effective systems to manage risks and develop policies at both local and national levels are necessary to ensure social welfare and increased quality of life.
Future Climate Extremes, Impacts, and Disaster Losses
Climate Extremes and Impacts
In the future, the impacts of extreme climate changes will be widely felt on natural and human systems. Estimation models project substantial warming in temperatures by the end of the 21st century and that makes it virtually certain to increase the frequency and magnitude of warm and cold daily temperature extremes. It is very likely that the intensity of heatwaves will increase over most land areas and the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase in many areas of the globe. This will be particularly the case in tropical regions which can lead to the formation of tropical cyclones. The average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase along with its frequency.
The report also estimates with medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st century in some seasons due to infrequent rainfall. With this extreme change in climates, it is very likely that the main sea level will rise and contribute to extreme coastal high water levels in the future. Coastal erosion will increase coupled with increased tropical cyclone wind speeds. Heat waves will very likely affect mountains causing more landslides and glacial lake outbursts.
Human Impacts and Disaster Losses
With such drastically changing weather conditions, it is only a matter of time before the impacts will be felt by humans. Water, agriculture, food security, health, and tourism all have the potential to be seriously affected. Increases in exposure will also result in higher economic losses, although climate change is said to be only one of the drivers of future changes. Relocation of residents due to climate changes could be more frequent with drastic changing weather conditions.
Managing Changing Risks of Climate Extremes and Disasters
It is necessary from the findings of this report to note that adaptation to climate change and disaster risk management will not only be necessary but will have to be effectively applied to achieve sustainable development. Effective risk management strategies must be employed to reduce and transfer risk and to respond to events and disasters. A multi-hazard risk management approach will provide opportunities to reduce complex hazards. Local governments must join forces with international organisations to integrate local knowledge with additional scientific and technical knowledge that can improve disaster and enhance community-based adaptation. Insurance-related instruments will help households, businesses, and governments mitigate disaster-related economic losses. In the period from 1980 to 200, disaster insurance covered about 20% of reported weather-related losses, but their distribution is uneven, with about 40% of the losses insured in high-income as compared to only 4% of losses in low-income countries. The current national insurance systems differ widely and innovative public-sector partnerships are required to better estimate the price risk in developing countries. Ecosystem-based solutions like mangrove conservation and rehabilitation can provide cost-effective risk reductions and minimise the scope of maladaptation in developed and developing countries.
Effective adaptation will require timely intervention and risk communication along with the processes of monitoring, researching, evaluating, learning, and innovating new ways to reduce disaster risks and promote the adaptive management of climate extremes. These flexible adaptive national systems will be better suited to bring together different scientific, social, and economic information into the decision-making processes, to take action when faced with large uncertainties.
Implications for Sustainable Development
Incremental steps are needed when it comes to risk reduction, as they will help improve efficiency within existing technological, governmental, and value systems. Disaster risk and the ability to cope with climate change is unevenly distributed with poorer countries being more vulnerable, although the wealthy can also be vulnerable to extreme climate events. This is precisely why transformational changes are required to adapt. These transformations can be facilitated through increased emphasis on learning, innovation, adaptive management, and leadership.
Adaptation approaches can be enhanced by addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability and by adapting disaster risk management systems into all social, economic, and environmental policy domains. The most effective adaptations will involve participation in strategy development and the capacity to combine multiple societal relations.
This Special Report brings out the different aspects of managing extreme climate risks. The risks can contribute to disasters, but these disasters are not only limited to physical hazards. The risk of disaster emerges from the interaction of weather, the physical contributors to disaster risk, the exposure and vulnerability to these risks, and the human contributors to risk. The report provides a careful assessment of the current state of knowledge of climate change and its potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts.