Raising Risk Awareness – new project under WWA
Raising Risk Awareness – Using climate science to inform post disaster Policy & practice in developing countries
Today we understand the impact of human activities on global mean temperature very well; however, high-impact extreme weather events are where the socio-economic impacts of a changing climate manifest itself and where our understanding is more in its infancy but nevertheless developing at pace. Based on this and recent advances in scientific capabilities the World Climate Research Programme identified climate extremes as one of its ‘grand challenges’ and particularly the pressing need to understand these extremes to improve the prediction and attribution of extreme weather events, and ultimately provide a more comprehensive assessment of risk from anthropogenic climate change. This coupled with the fact that such events are not selective and often hit those countries that are least well equipped to deal with their impacts and set these countries back years in terms of development has been the motivation behind a new partnership between the World Weather Attribution (WWA) Initiative and the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). The Raising Risk Awareness project seeks to assess the contribution of anthropogenic climate change and other external drivers (e.g.”El Niño”) to the occurrence of extreme weather events in developing countries in East Africa and South East Asia, and identify how such information could help to bridge the science-communications policy gap, and enable these countries and communities to become more climate resilient. Whilst this project will not seek to attribute the impacts of such events, it will seek to understand the existing vulnerability and exposure of these countries to such impacts to further strengthen the evidence base to inform disaster risk management and resilience efforts.
In a warming world, it is increasingly important for policy development, decision-making and investments at the national and local scale to take into account changing patterns of extreme weather and climate-related events. The basic physics of how the climate system works and the impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions on the mean climate are generally well understood and well covered in the literature. However there is still much to be learned about how a changing climate will affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather events in particular locations. As a result, those who are not aware of such climate change signals and do not integrate this information into decision-making, risk building back communities that are not resilient to future extreme weather events. Conversely, those who point to climate change without a robust underlying analysis may overplay the connection, and in doing so risk undermining political capital, weakening public debate, and mal-adapting.
The detection and attribution of long-term trends in observed records (mainly temperature) has been routinely carried out at least since the second Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 1995. Extreme weather attribution is however an emerging and rapidly advancing science, and there is increasing capacity to estimate the change in magnitude and occurrence of specific types of extreme events in a warming world. The significance of attributing the role of climate change in an extreme event comes from situating that hazard in the context of long term climate change for a country or region, and thus creating a robust narrative for decision-makers and the public around the degree to which a disaster of this type will represent the ‘new normal’. Such systematic and rapid scientific analysis is the focus of the World Weather Attribution (WWA) Initiative. With a robust evidence base and the right protocols in place it is now possible to run near real-time extreme weather event attribution within days of an event striking. While not all extreme events are becoming more likely but some less likely and for others the risk has not changed identifying those events where the risk has changed dramatically is crucial to build resilience. Event attribution typically addresses the ‘extreme’ in the weather event, but the impact of an extreme weather event also depends on vulnerability and exposure. Indeed the vulnerability and exposure of people and locations can sometimes be more important than climate change in determining future trends in risk. Though this project will not seek to attribute impacts of such events, it will situate the analysis in the existing vulnerability and exposure context, to further the strengthen the evidence base to inform decision-making. These scientific advances notwithstanding, new developments and basic climate science is often not communicated in a way that can be easily understood by laypeople or used by decision-makers. It is imperative the science is clearly presented to inform the media and enable them to fulfil their role as information brokers, and to support decision-making by communities, planners, and policy-makers, especially during the window of opportunity in the aftermath of disaster when important decisions are beingtaken on rebuilding efforts including around climate resilience and risk reductions measures.
Developing countries are some of the most vulnerable to extreme weather events, but lack timely and robust evidence to understand current and future threats from such hazards and thus to prepare for and respond to their impacts. A range of developing country stakeholders are demanding information about the role of climate change in individual extreme weather events, as evidenced by the following:
- A growing number of projects seeking to understand climate variability and how to integrate changing risk into development and resilience strategies such as Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) and Partners for Resilience;
- Climate attribution questions are amongst those most commonly asked of the International Federation of Red Cross and the International Research Institute (IFRC-IRI) help desk during major disasters; and
- A rising number of requests for extreme weather attribution information coming from governments, NGOs, and media in the wake of extreme weather events.
The Raising Risk Awareness project seeks to assess the role of human-induced climate change in the risk of extreme weather events in developing countries and identify how such scientific evidence could help to bridge the science-communications-policy gap, and enable these countries and communities to become more resilient in a warming world. This project will initially be piloted in East Africa and South East Asia – two disaster prone regions of the world. The project will be delivered through a partnership between the WWA Initiative and CDKN, bringing together climate science, development, policy, planning and communications expertise across a range of academic, research, government, non-government and civil society organisations from developed and developing countries. This is the first time this type of analysis is being piloted specifically to inform developing country efforts in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. As such engaging southern partners will be vital to the successful delivery of this project and critical for building local capacity to assess the true risks from extreme events, addressing knowledge gaps and ensuring climate information is communicated effectively to key audiences. The pilot of Raising Risk Awareness project will run until March 2017 and will generate a suite of tools and knowledge products, and run a series of national and regional events to help civil society, communities, practitioners, media and decision-makers better understand and prepare for the current and future risks from extreme weather events.