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New IPCC report addresses risks of extreme events and disasters

It is "virtually certain" that warm weather extreme events will become more frequent this century, according to a new summary report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 18 November. In order to explore ways of adapting to heatwaves and other extreme events potentially exacerbated in future by climate change, the IPCC has brought together a range of scientific and professional expertise.

 Image © USGS

The IPCC summary report, 'Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation', aimed to integrate expertise in climate science, disaster risk management and adaptation in order to explore reducing and managing the risks of extreme events and disasters in a changing climate.

The report evaluates the role of climate change in altering characteristics of extreme events, looking at a wide range of options used by institutions, organisations, and communities to reduce exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes while improving resilience. The report uses carefully calibrated language to describe the robustness of key findings, which depends on many factors such as the completeness of weather observations and the level of agreement between different climate models.

Findings from the summary report include:

  • It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur throughout the 21st Century on a global scale.
  • Authors cited a medium level of confidence that droughts will intensify over the coming century in southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, as well as central Europe and several other world regions.
  • It is likely that heavy precipitation will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe, including in winter in the northern mid-latitudes.
  • Projected precipitation and temperature changes imply changes in floods, although overall there is low confidence at the global scale that climate change will alter the magnitude or frequency of river related flooding. This uncertainty is due to limited evidence and the complexity of the causes of regional changes.
  • Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters vary from year to year and place to place, but overall have increased, authors said with a high level of confidence. They also expressed similar confidence in the fact that total economic losses from natural disasters are higher in developed countries; however economic losses expressed as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are higher in developing countries.
  • Deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries (high level of confidence).
  • Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters have increased in the long-term, as people and economic assets have been increasingly exposed to risks. For example, more people are living where they may be adversely affected by disasters (high level of confidence).
  • There was a high level of agreement that "Many measures for managing current and future risks, when implemented effectively, make sense under a range of future climates". These "low regrets" measures include systems that warn people of impending disasters; changes in land use planning; sustainable land management; ecosystem management; improvements in health surveillance, water supplies, and drainage systems; development and enforcement of building codes; as well as better education and awareness.
  • Risk management works best when tailored to local circumstances. Combining local knowledge with additional scientific and technical expertise helps communities reduce their risk and adapt to climate change (robust evidence, high level of agreement).

 

In January 2011, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report which found that the frequency and damages from disasters had increased in Europe between 1998 and 2009.

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