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Climate and disaster resilience

One global risk factor is climate change. It is often referred to as a ‘risk multiplier’ and so its impact on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies cannot be ignored.

Emissions result in conditions which can aggravate and intensify the impacts of weather-related hazards. Examples include:

  • Storms and cyclones, which can become stronger and change in frequency

  • Heatwaves, which can become more prolonged with higher temperatures

  • Spells of cold, sub-zero weather can result from the warming of the Arctic region and diversion of the cold weather pattern further south

In addition, our fragmented natural environment is extremely susceptible to the rate of change of the climate; species unable to accommodate shifting climate zones with consequential impact on habitats and of course agricultural, food and water systems.

Climate change alters risk profiles and therefore needs to be taken into account when preparing for, and strengthening resilience to, disasters long term.

There have been various international initiatives and high-level conferences on climate change. Our response to the changes takes two forms: mitigation and adaptation.

We are attempting to reduce our emissions – referred to as climate change mitigation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992, followed by a series of protocols and international agreements made between states to established targets for the reduction or limitation of greenhouse gas emissions, and to review the implementation measures taken and progress made in developed and transition economies.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of scientists and economists, whose role is to review current research periodically. It produces reports for policy makers on the ‘scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation’ (IPCC ND). The IPCC provides the evidence for climate change and its impacts.

The IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of scientists and economists, who produce a periodic synthesis report for policy makers making clear the ‘scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation’ (IPCC ND). Anthropogenic climate change is happening, it is exacerbating risks from hydro-meteorological hazards, environmental degradation and urbanisation.

The IPCC Special Report was triggered as we past the point of realistically being able to limit global temperature increases to no more than two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, and so limiting the worst consequences of climate change.

The report notes that human-caused warming ‘is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052’. But the rate of warming is not consistent across the globe; some 20-40% of the global population live in regions that have already experienced warming of more than 1.5°C in at least one season.

The report also focuses on how climate change could impact sustainable development, poverty and inequality:

Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences of global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods.

(IPCC 2018)

Farmers, for example, would be directly affected by the impact of climate change on rainfall, drought and temperature. Limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C could make a significant difference to millions of people facing poverty. The report states that limiting global warming could also help the world achieve many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For an example of the challenges of climate change affecting the vulnerable poor, indigenous peoples and agricultural communities, see the Oxfam report on Bolivia (Oxfam International 2009).

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America where low-income groups are particularly exposed to climate change impact. It has the highest percentage of indigenous people in South America who experience frequent ‘natural disasters’.

A key recommendation of the report is that disaster risk reduction needs to be part of long-term planning.

We have seen a shift over the last 15 years from a focus on the impacts of climate change on communities to a focus on how we can assist communities to change or adapt to the consequences. Given the lag in the climate system, adaptation is essential as the climate will continue to change for the foreseeable future.

Further reading

For those of you interested in the impacts of climate change here in Britain, this report from the Environment Agency outlines the future projections, impacts and potential adaptations that should be considered. Reports like this are written for strategy makers; as practitioners, it is our duty to ensure our at-risk communities are aware of what the future may hold.

Environment Agency (2018) ‘Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation’ [online]. available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/climate-change-impacts-and-adaptation

Your task

What might be the challenges for communities to recognise, plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change?


IPCC (ND) ‘About the IPCC’ [online]. available from https://www.ipcc.ch/about/ [19 August 2019]

IPCC (2018) Global Warming of 1.5C – Special Report [online]. available from https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ [19 August 2019]

Oxfam International (2009) Bolivia: Climate change, poverty and adaptation [online]. available from https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/bolivia-climate-change-poverty-and-adaptation-111968 [19 August 2019]

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This article is from the free online course:

Community Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience: An Introduction

Coventry University