IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

20.5 Implications for risk, hazard and disaster management

The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990 to 1999) led to a fundamental shift in the way disasters are viewed: away from the notion that disasters were temporary disruptions to be managed by humanitarian responses and technical interventions and towards a recognition that disasters are a function of both natural and human drivers (ISDR, 2004; UNDP, 2004). The concept of disaster risk management has evolved; it is defined as the systematic management of administrative decisions, organisations, operational skills and abilities to implement policies, strategies and coping capacities of society or individuals to lessen the impacts of natural and related environmental and technological hazards (ISDR, 2004). This includes measures to provide not only emergency relief and recovery, but also disaster risk reduction (ISDR, 2004); i.e., the development and application of policies, strategies and practices designed to minimise vulnerabilities and the impacts of disasters through a combination of technical measures to reduce physical hazards and to enhance social and economic capacity to adapt. Disaster risk reduction is conceived as taking place within the broad context of sustainable development (ISDR, 2004).

In practice, however, there has been a disconnect between disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, due to a combination of institutional structures, lack of awareness of the linkages between the two, and perceptions of ‘competition’ between hazard-based risk reduction, development needs and emergency relief (Yamin, 2004; Thomalla et al., 2006). The disconnect persists despite an increasing recognition that natural disasters seriously challenge the ability of countries to meet targets associated with the Millennium Development Goals (Schipper and Pelling, 2006).

A disconnect also exists between disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, again reflecting different institutional structures and lack of awareness of linkages (Schipper and Pelling, 2006; O’Brien et al., 2006). Disaster risk reduction, for example, is often the responsibility of civil defence agencies, while climate-change adaptation is often covered by environmental or energy departments (Thomalla et al., 2006). Disaster risk reduction tends to focus on sudden and short-lived disasters, such as floods, storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and has tended to place less emphasis on ‘creeping onset’ disasters such as droughts. Many disasters covered by disaster risk reduction are not affected by climate change. However, there is an increasing recognition of the linkages between disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, since climate change alters not only the physical hazard but also vulnerability. Sperling and Szekely (2005) note that many of the impacts associated with climate change exacerbate or alter existing threats, and adaptation measures can benefit from practical experience in disaster risk reduction. However, some effects of climate change are new within human history (such as the effects of sea-level rise), and there is little experience to tackle such impacts. Sperling and Szekely (2005) therefore state that co-ordinated action to address both existing and new challenges becomes urgent. There is great opportunity for collaboration in the assessment of current and future vulnerabilities, in the use of assessment tools (Thomalla et al., 2006) and through capacity-building measures. Incorporating climate change and its uncertainty into measures to reduce vulnerability to hazard is essential in order for them to be truly sustainable (O’Hare, 2002), and climate change increases the urgency to integrate disaster risk management into development interventions (DFID, 2004).

There are, effectively, two broad approaches to disaster risk reduction, and adaptation to climate change can be incorporated differently into each. The top-down approach is based on institutional responses, allocation of funding and agreed procedures and practices (O’Brien et al., 2006). It is the approach followed in most developed countries, and adaptation to climate change can be implemented by changing guidelines and procedures. In the United Kingdom, for example, design flood magnitudes can be increased by 20% to reflect possible effects of climate change (Richardson, 2002). However, institutional inertia and strongly embedded practices can make it very difficult to change. Olsen (2006), for example, shows how major methodological and institutional changes are needed before flood management in the USA can take climate change (and its uncertainty) into account. The bottom-up approach to disaster risk reduction is based on enhancing the capacity of local communities to adapt to and prepare for disaster (see, for example, Allen, 2006; Blanco, 2006). Actions here include dissemination of technical knowledge and training, awareness raising, accessing local knowledge and resources, and mobilising local communities (Allen, 2006). Climate change can be incorporated in this approach through awareness raising and the transmission of technical knowledge to local communities, but bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and local application is a key challenge (Blanco, 2006).

Reducing vulnerability to current climatic variability can effectively reduce vulnerability to increased hazard risk associated with climate change (e.g., Kashyap, 2004; Goklany, 2007; Burton et al., 2002; Davidson et al., 2003; Robledo et al., 2004). To a large extent, adaptation measures for climate variability and extremes already exist. Measures to reduce current vulnerability by capacity building rather than distribution of disaster relief, for example, will increase resilience to changes in hazard caused by climate change (Mirza, 2003). Similarly, the implementation of improved warning and forecasting methods and the adoption of some land-use planning measures would reduce both current and future vulnerability. However, many responses to current climatic variability would not in and of themselves be a sufficient response to climate change. For example, a changing climate could alter the design standard of a physical defence, such as a realigned channel or a defence wall. It could alter the effectiveness of building codes based on designing against specified return period events (such as the 10-year return period gust). It could alter the area exposed to a potential hazard, meaning that development previously assumed to be ‘safe’ was now located in a risk area. Finally, it could introduce hazards previously not experienced in an area. Burton and van Aalst (2004), in their assessment of the World Bank Country Strategic Programmes and project cycle, identify the need to assess the success of current adaptation to present-day climate risks and climate variability, especially as they may change with climate change.