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Managing extreme weather events and risks

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Source: GLOBE SERIES

A comprehensive international report on managing the risks of extreme weather events has confirmed what scientific evidence has already concluded; that climate change is a leading cause of dramatic weather extremes and without adequate preparation, the econnomic and social consequences could be dire.

The 592 page Special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation(SREX)  from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addresses how integrating expertise in climate science, disaster risk management and climate adaptation can contribute to reducing and managing the risks of extreme events and disasters.

'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,' says Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC's Working Group II.

'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.'

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • Observations since 1950 show changes in some extreme events, particularly daily temperature extremes, and heat waves.
  • It is likely (66-100%) that the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase in the 21st century over many regions.
  • It is virtually certain (99-100%) 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. It is very likely (90-100%) that heat waves will increase in length, frequency, and/or intensity over most land areas.
  • It is likely (66-100%) that the average maximum wind speed of tropical cyclones (also known as typhoons or hurricanes) will increase throughout the coming century
  • It is very likely (90-100%) that average sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme sea levels in extreme coastal high water levels.

The character and severity of impacts from climate extremes depend not only on the extremes themselves but also on exposure and vulnerability. In the report, adverse impacts are considered disasters when they produce widespread damage and cause severe alterations in the normal functioning of communities or societies.

Climate extremes, exposure, and vulnerability are influenced by a wide range of factors, including anthropogenic climate change, natural climate variability, and socioeconomic development (See figure below).

The severity of damages and costs from extreme weather events have been increasing in recent decades, due in large part to socioeconomic trends, such as more people and wealth concentrated along coastlines vulnerable to storms. From a risk-management perspective, when two such trends are converging in the direction of greater risk, it's time for action.

The report also suggests there is compelling evidence that manmade greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to some of these trends.

The report is the result of coordinated teamwork between 220 scientists and experts in 62 countries studying more than 1,000 scientific documents on climate change, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change as well as disaster risk management. The report was commissioned in 2009 by IPCC.

More than 18,000 expert and government review comments were received and the report was subject to three rounds of reviews from experts to confirm its underlying scientific and technical information.

The report offers a greater understanding of the human and economic costs of disasters and the physical and social patterns that cause them.

Many countries, including developing countries, face severe challenges in coping with climate-related disasters. To this end, the report serves as an extensiverepository of knowledge and regional modelling that can improve pre-event preparations and disaster response and recovery capabilities from extreme climate events.

SREX will now be presented in the coming weeks to stakeholders around the world. The report's authors will explain the report during events in developed and developing countries, to scientific experts, to local-scale practitioners and other stakeholders as well as international organizations.

In April and May, the report will be presented to policy-makers in half a dozen locations in Latin America, Asia and Africa, with the support of the Norwegian government and the Climate & Development Knowledge Network.  Events are also planned with UN agencies in Geneva, the policy community in Brussels and the insurance industry in London.

Copies of the report can be found on the IPCC website.

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