IPCC: Smart Management Can Reduce Risk of Climate Extremes

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 3, 2012 (ENS) – Climate change has led to extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and heavy precipitation over the past 50 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a new report on managing the risks of extreme events.

Climate extremes in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks, can produce climate-related disasters – or not – depending on how they are managed, the IPCC says in its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, or SREX, released March 28 online. The print edition will be published in May.

Tin’akoff village five miles from the Mali border in West Africa has been suffering drought for several years. (Photo by Christian Aid Images)

The 592-page report cites thousands of scientific studies and has been subjected to three rounds of review by experts and governments to ensure that the findings are based in the underlying scientific and technical information.

A total of 220 authors from 62 countries worked on the report, for which 18,784 outside expert and government review comments were received in the three rounds of formal review.

“The IPCC is deeply committed to producing reports that are policy-relevant but not policy prescriptive through a transparent process,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.

IPPC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri (Photo courtesy UN)

While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not, the IPCC shows in the report. Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events,

At the same time, the IPCC notes, limits to resilience are faced when thresholds or tipping points associated with social and/or natural systems are exceeded, posing severe challenges for adaptation.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, co-chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report.

“The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty,” said Field.

In Bangladesh, innovative disaster-resilient housing was built for a coastal village wiped out when Cyclone Aila struck in 2009 (Photo by Nasif Ahmed courtesy UNDP Bangladesh)

“The most effective measures tend to be those that aid sustainable development, provide a diverse portfolio of options, and represent “low regrets” strategies in the sense that they yield benefits across a wide range of climate futures,” he said.

The IPCC released the report’s Summary for Policymakers last November. The full report provides the basis for the key conclusions first presented in that summary. It offers a greater understanding of the human and economic costs of disasters and the physical and social patterns that cause them. It enables policy-makers to delve into the detailed information behind the findings to examine the material on which the IPCC based its assessments.

The report is the outcome of cross-disciplinary teamwork between scientists studying the physical aspects of climate change; scientists with expertise in impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; as well as experts in disaster risk management.

“The report integrates these three areas of expertise as an IPCC product which has high policy relevance to countries and communities across the globe,” said Dr. Pachauri. “The authors assess scientific and technical information from around the world to provide and communicate knowledge on what we know with confidence, as well as identifying areas on which greater scientific evidence is essential to gain deeper understanding,” he said.

The SREX has assessed a wealth of new studies, and new global and regional modeling results that were not available at the time of the Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, its last major IPCC assessment of climate change science.

The SREX report finds that scientists have documented:

  • Likely increase in frequency of heavy precipitation events or increase in proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls over many areas, such as the high latitudes and tropical regions, and in winter in the northern mid-latitudes.
  • Medium confidence in an observed increase in the length or number of warm spells or heat waves in many regions.
  • Medium confidence in projected increase in duration and intensity of droughts in some regions, including southern Europe and the Mediterranean, central Europe, central North America, Central America and Mexico, northeast Brazil, and southern Africa.

“The SREX provides an unprecedented level of detail regarding observed and expected changes in weather and climate extremes, based on a comprehensive assessment of over 1,000 scientific publications,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of Working Group I.

“The report also provides improved differentiation of observed and projected changes in extremes of temperature, precipitation and drought across the continents of the globe,” said Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I.

Seeking new ways to strengthen climate resilience, city officials from Thailand and Viet Nam consult with counterparts in the Philippines on offsetting risk, November 15, 2011 (Photo by UNISDR)

Helena Molin-Valdes, acting director of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNISDR, described the new report as the most comprehensive analysis yet of the interplay between the impacts of extreme weather and socio-economic vulnerability.

She said its publication was well-timed for the debate on resilience and risk reduction in the run-up to the UN Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro or Rio+20.

“The only way to effectively manage risk is with hard evidence. And UNISDR has struggled with lack of evidence for years, basing our arguments on anecdotal data,” she said.

“Today, we are extremely pleased, because this growing convergence of scientific research and data that is being provided by the IPCC, the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization is what we need to drive policy. Our mantra is connect and convince. Well now we really can do this armed with this evidence.”

“The sad fact is that we are a long way from a climate smart world, a world where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced,” said Molin-Valdes. “Where are we? We are increasing risk on a daily basis.”

In April and May, the SREX report will be presented to policy makers in Latin America, Asia and Africa, with the support of the Norwegian government and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Events also are planned with UN agencies in Geneva, the policy community in Brussels and the insurance industry in London.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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