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Integrate disaster risk reduction and development, says IPCC Special Report

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Written by Marion Davis

Friday, 18 November 2011 11:49


SEI researchers Richard Klein and Lisa Schipper are lead authors of the new IPCC Special Report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), for which the Summary for Policymakers was released today in Kampala, Uganda, after approval by governments and scientists.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) evaluates the best data, scientific research and analyses on observed and projected changes in weather and climate; the impacts of those changes, opportunities for and constraints on adaptation; the relationship between disaster risk management and sustainable development, and the nature of risk and decision-making under uncertainty.

The authors find that human-caused climate change, natural climatic variations and socio-economic development are all factors in the toll taken by climate extremes and disasters. The biggest climate impacts already being observed are increases in heavy precipitation, record high temperatures and heat waves, and those trends are expected to continue. Combined with rapid population growth in exposed areas and high-value development, this means much greater potential impacts from disasters.

The death toll so far has been much greater in developing countries – more than 95% of deaths from 1970 to 2004, the report shows – and poor countries are also suffering greater losses as a share of their GDP. In absolute terms, however, developed countries’ losses are higher, because their physical assets are more valuable. Developed countries also tend to be better equipped to plan for and respond to disasters, though they too can be inadequately prepared.

Focusing on vulnerability
Richard Klein
, a lead author and senior research fellow at SEI, said the report highlights the importance of addressing socio-economic factors that compound vulnerability to disasters and climate extremes. “For example,” he said, “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.”

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.

Contributing to the same chapter, SEI research fellow Clarisse Kehler Siebert analysed the international legal context in which climate change adaptation and disaster risk management take place, as well as the opportunities and constraints provided by international law to advance these processes.

Integration with development
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.”

Lisa Schipper, a senior scientist at SEI whose work focuses on the intersection of adaptation with disaster risk reduction, is a lead author of the chapter “Determinants of Risk: Exposure and Vulnerability.” Like Klein, she stressed the importance of development in addressing vulnerability, noting that while poor countries are, in some cases, more exposed to natural hazards, it’s the underlying conditions that often lead to disasters.

“Disasters are a social construct: more disasters happen where people are vulnerable,” she said. “There are more disasters in developing countries because people tend to be more exposed, more sensitive, have less awareness and are less prepared.”

SEI has been closely involved in the work of the IPCC since its founding, and several SEI researchers, including Klein and Schipper, are also lead authors of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, slated to be released in 2013. The Special Report released today was prepared in recognition of the need to learn from experiences in managing and reducing the risk of extreme climate events and provide guidance to countries in their adaptation activities.

“This IPCC report was the first time climate scientists worked together with adaptation experts and disaster scholars,” Klein said. “The collaboration has led to a unique outcome, both from a scientific and a policy perspective, which may well prove to be an important breakthrough in advancing efforts to reduce vulnerability to climate extremes and disasters around the world.”

Learn more and download the report (IPCC website)

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