Numerous scientific studies have created overwhelming evidence about the changing climate and its impacts. Frequent and severe weather, sea-level rise and warming, acidification, extended periods of water scarcity and extreme temperatures, flash floods, depleting ground water levels, degrading aquifers, crumbling water infrastructures and other deleterious effects.
The ability to overcome these vulnerabilities and prepare for risks varies from region to region and community to community. Certain regions despite being on the disaster-prone zones have limited financial and political interests to bounce back while other regions have capacities to research and innovate into risk preparedness, evaluation, forecast using data-led technological advancements.
For example, Puerto Rico has faced a decade-long financial crisis, which has negatively impacted the maintenance of water infrastructures, limiting factors like physical and financial constraints have not helped the region to work on reducing their vulnerabilities. On the other hand, Spain, for example has varying frequency and intensity of drought events throughout the country. Considering the ineffectiveness of crisis management approaches and reactive emergency response planning, the country has now implemented drought risk reduction strategy. The strategy implies integration of monitoring and early warning management systems within hydrological planning which makes the prolonged drought as well as temporary scarcity of water risks manageable.
Recently in 2020, World Bank has taken a step ahead, by talking about “Bouncing back is not enough, let’s bounce forward to infrastructure resilience”. The article points out the large gap in resilient infrastructure financing and calls out the need for public and private sector to work together.
What are the current global challenges?
Taking the new developments forward and (re)focussing on bridging existing gaps is AIWW’s focal point through the sub-theme. The main topics under the discussion radar include both the scarcity of financial investment and lack of innovations in data-based preparedness and assessment systems:
- Adaptive & resilient design of water infrastructure: water quality, flooding, and drought
- Early warning systems for high disaster-risk prone regions & availability of data
- Financial systems to strengthen dealing with risk preparedness
- Climate related risks and extreme events: Climate related risks are created by hazards both slow in their onset (like changes in temperature, precipitation affecting agriculture loss, causing drought) as well as suddenly occurring (like tropical storms and floods). In the aftermath of disasters, systemic resilience is often considered as priority. The discussions are centred around benefit-cost ratio and/or return of investment. However a resilient infrastructure solution is dependent on vulnerability, stressors and threats in the region. Some discussions are also around risk mitigation, which essentially means to consider assuring additional facilities and extra capacities.
Addressing gaps in understanding the risks is step one to dealing with them. Secondly, allowing comprehensive action for both big and small risks is equally crucial. This means considering the stresses as impacting individuals, environment as well as assets. Thirdly, recognising cascading impacts as well as interdependencies and enhancing capacity to assess and predict gaps in climate risk preparedness and management is pivotal.
However, there are several challenges in terms of capacities available with governments to dispose- financial capacities, human resources, scientific expertise and backed policies, geopolitical interests and socio-ecological constraints in some cases.
- Disasters and economic impact: According to World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 and the interconnection mapping of causes and impacts, there is a direct connection between economic risks and environmental risks intensifying due to geopolitical, societal and technological risks.
Although climate, disaster and water risks are global challenges, but their impacts are hyper-local and at different scales- community, assets, economy, infrastructure, environment, resources and biodiversity loss. Lack of financial backing in disaster resilient infrastructure can lead to fallout of local economy, businesses, supply chains and availability of goods. Furthermore, it can lead to loss of lives, assets and resources in addition to economic damages to public and private systems. The impact on industries and infrastructure will reflect on risks portfolio of financial investors and thus, can lead to reduced investment in resilient and adaptive solutions.
- Risks and Analytics: Jacob Schewe et al. (2019) mention about the global disaster risk impact models and frameworks representing process-level of disasters, interaction between human and nature systems and impact levels. In most cases, geohydrological, river basin centric and hydropower assessments are most commonly explored and some models tend to over-estimate the spread. However, as also mentioned above, a disaster is a holistic risk which affects other inter-linked sectors as well- agriculture, terrestrial ecosystems, heat island effect and its impacts on human mortality, political interests and capacities available, to count a few. This under-estimation often impacts assessment of collateral risks- societal, ecological and political and thus, the overall risks may be higher than calculatedly anticipated.
The study comparison done with 2003 heat wave and drought in Europe resulted in some encouraging results in individual sectors. For example, hydrological impacts assessment done in Rhine, Danube and Aare rivers were found to be statistically comparable. However, impacts assessment on related sectors- agriculture and ecosystem productivity for example, from climate forced data sets have grossly underestimated the impacts (with a deviation of more than 1σ, or more than 10 excess deaths per 100,000 people or about 75% models underestimating crop yields, or vegetation models where remote-sensing derived GPP in Western Europe could reliably produce observations). This gap in estimation alone, highlights the magnitude of the problem.
- Investment, reconstruction and risk resilience: Disaster risks have impacts at local, micro and macro levels- physical and economic impacts, liability risks and risks arising from transition to low carbon economy. As outlined in figure 2, a study by Willis Towers Watson on Climate risks and resilience, points out, the economic impacts of extreme weather events are far-reaching and negatively impacts performance of businesses globally; resulting in reduced revenues and/or increased costs.
Another type of risks in financial part of climate and disaster risks is Physical risk to companies, supply chains and disruption at global scale. Liability risks especially in growing trends of climate change litigation are:
- Product liability claims brought by states, cities and organisations against environment impacting products, like palm oil, etc
- Business failing to adapt or transition to low carbon economy are also claimed for shut down or claimed to be bought
- Dilapidating infrastructures are being claimed to add to physical risks and therefore need to adapt or transform into low-risks structures.
- Reconstruction and/or restoration of ecologically degraded systems to preserve the existing natural resources
- Regulatory bodies must regulate the industries and asset owners to consider the full impact of their investment decisions. For example European Commission’s capital markets union has already amplified the call for ‘deep reengineering’ of existing financial systems to support sustainable economies and solutions.
Hence, we need to financially transition to a low risks economy and is also a major opportunity for investors as climate financing and risks mitigating solutions are mainstreaming.
- Disaster preparedness and early warning systems: At the international scale, SENDAI framework for disaster risks reduction which is a voluntary instrument for disaster risk management policy and operations is adopted by UN Member states. According to European union action plan on the SENDAI framework for Disaster Risks Reduction 2015-2030, the framework is an opportunity to develop a disaster risks-informed approach to policy and coherent actions. The action plan 2015-2030 of EU combines regulations and expectations of 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, The Addis Abba Action Agenda, Paris Agreement adopted under UNFCCC, World Humanitarian Summit, and the New Urban Agenda from HABITAT III.
The Action Plan implementation priorities include building risk knowledge, collection and sharing of data and damage data, developing scenarios, risks assessment, community-inclusive decision making, mutual learning and review and strengthening the links between disaster risk management, climate change adaptation and biodiversity strategies. For building community resilience, integrating ‘Building Back better’ objective with assessment, process, awareness, monitoring and capacity building strategies is crucial.
In other regions, for example USA, a National disaster recovery framework was released in 2016. The framework goes a step beyond by including post disaster and recovery through integrated response mechanism. Collaboration across stakeholders provides an opportunity to integrate resilience, adaptation, preparedness, mitigation and sustainability into the community’s short term and long term recovery goals.
In Philippines national disaster risk reduction and management plan is also in action (read more here), Bangladesh has come up with a comprehensive action plan to build coastal resilience as well as resilient sanitation services, addressing one of the inevitable challenges post disaster (read more here). In India, a disaster management authority is the apex body to deal with planning and practice around the country. The authority also delegates and encourages input from states in disaster risk prone zones (read more here). Australia has taken pivotal steps in developing a region-relevant disaster risks reduction framework accompanied with a resilient strategy (read more here).
World Resources Institute has already taken initiatives to develop adaptation and financial investment exploring different areas of disaster and climate governance, risks and resilience (read more here)
Existing solutions to address climate and disaster risks challenges:
- Risks-informed planning and nature-based solutions: European Commission has supported several projects in different areas of disaster risks and resilience. Resilience is a trait encouraged to be developed in community to recover from disaster threats, shocks and stresses.
In Mozambique, DATAWINNERS which is a platform that includes informatics and data from multiple institutions (Meteorological dept., water resources agencies, INGC, hydro-meteorological information, etc) provides an early warning alert to local actors, agencies and aid institutions. This link helps strengthen systemic response and improves national preparedness.
In order to prepare for post-disaster challenges like nutrition, food security and sanitation; a multi-year capacity support plan is developed with the objective of having a fully functioning early warning, preparedness, and response planning mechanisms in Mauritania.
Promoting inclusive management of drought and strengthening local and national drought management capacity in eastern Cuba; World Food Program- United Nations Development program have developed practical tools and monitoring network for drought risks assessment. “Pon tu Ficha has been an example of good practice in Cuba and its tools will be applied throughout the country by the Government, which will ensure that the project is sustainable”. Other important experiences, good practices can be found here.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) for adaptation are important and crucial part of building climate and disaster resilience. Several efforts in implementing NbS for climate adaptation have been done. However, supporting scaling up of these solutions and bridging the gaps that are assessed, is essential. Several such initiatives have been executed by World Resources Institute in collaboration with other organisations (read more here).
- Advancing climate resilient agriculture: According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, global demand for food will increase by 50% however, the agricultural productivity will decrease by 30% by 2050. In most of the developing countries, agriculture is still a major livelihood and economic driver of the region. Small-scale farming and households face the impacts of disasters and climate change as they are vulnerable and have least access to resources.
The Consultative group on International Agricultural research (CGIAR) which is a global partnership of international organisations on food security and sustainable management of resources. Their flagship program targeted to scale climate-smart agriculture- Two Degree Initiative (2DI) engages with small-scale agriculture producers from over 60 countries and support them in inclusive, locally-led, climate-informed and risk-aware decisions. Other resources can be found here.
- Catalysing a paradigm shift for local actors: Some examples include coalition programs like Partners for Resilience, Adaptation for All and Building with Nature. Adaptation for All is a collaborative program initiated by Arcadis, Government of Netherlands and American Flood Coalition. The program has several regions in USA which have been incorporated under the program and benefitted. Different regions have different requirements which are prioritised within the Adaptation for All program. For example, community-based resilience planning and practice in Georgia, special ordinances to reduce flooding in upstream and downstream in North Carolina, Brevard and Cary and watershed-scale and regional planning with community-inclusion in vulnerability assessment and actions implemented in Southeast Palm Beach County.
Partners for Resilience have also implemented several disaster risks preparedness and reduction strategies in Indonesia, Philippines, Ethiopia, Uganda, Guatemala, India and many others in phase 1 and some other countries in phase 2. The program has put community in the centre to effectively deal with disasters and build an integrated risk management approach (read more here).
Building with Nature is an alternate approach where nature becomes the driver and driven entity and resilient solutions are developed around it to accommodate the constraints and benefit of natural elements. There are some primary enablers in the project which includes technology and system knowledge, multi-stakeholder decision-making, management, monitoring and maintenance, institutional strengthening and embedding, sound business case for financial investment and capacity building of local users and beneficiaries (read more here). The program is implemented in Indonesia with other public and private partners and is expected to scale up in other Asian countries.