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Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters
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Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters

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Evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks can produce climate-related disasters, the IPCC said in its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).

While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not. 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, the IPCC shows in the report, published last week.

At the same time, as the IPCC notes in the report, 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,” he said.

The IPCC released the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the report in November 2011. The full report released today provides the basis for the key conclusions first presented in the SPM. 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.

Teamwork across disciplines
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 policyrelevance to countries and communities across the globe,” said R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC.

“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 environmental and social factors that influence the risk of disasters vary from region to region, but many of the effective strategies for dealing with disaster risk in a changing climate are similar.

“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,” said Field.

The SREX has assessed a wealth of new studies, and new global and regional modelling results that were not available at the time of the Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, its last major assessment of climate change science. Some important conclusions delivered by the SREX therefore include:
- Medium confidence in an observed increase in the length or number of warm spells or heat waves in many regions of the globe.
- Likely increase in frequency of heavy precipitation events or increase in proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls over many areas of the globe, in particular in the high latitudes and tropical regions, and in winter in the northern mid-latitudes.
- Medium confidence in projected increase in duration and intensity of droughts in some regions of the world, including southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, 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











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