Disaster Risk Management Meets Climate Change Adaptation

January 25, 2012 · 0 comments

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director, from the AMS project, Living on the Real World

An increasingly popular and visible feature of AMS Annual Meetings is a suite of so-called Town Halls. Often scheduled for the lunch hour (and therefore attracting primarily that minority of attendees who prefer food for thought to the competing invitation of physical sustenance with friends), these sessions are supposed to model the iconic town halls that once were the heart of the new England political process. They’re more about community input than any erudition of the speakers.

AMS Town Halls are typically used to roll out federal agency initiatives, strategic plans, and/or explore the interface between our community’s science and major developments within the policy arena. A sampling: yesterday one provided researchers a look at emerging directions for DoE’s climate and earth system modeling. Another looked at threats to the continuity of Earth observing systems – a topic frequently discussed in this blog.

I was a last-minute substitute panelist, for the panel on Risk Mitigation for Climate Adaptation and Natural Hazards. The session took its cue from a recently-released Summary for Policymakers of an IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).

For those in the field, this special report has been required reading. Thirty pages or so of thoughtful, well-reviewed and well-documented material. [We can look forward to publication of the full document next month.] Here’s the bit that to me looks salient today: Closer integration of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, along with the incorporation of both into local, subnational, national, and international development policies and practices, could provide benefits at all scales.” [page 9]

The idea, in a nutshell, is that disaster risk management and climate change adaptation share much in common. The Town Hall announcement highlights the difference this way: risk management draws from history, while climate change looks to the future. The idea is the incorporating this forward-looking perspective into more traditional hazard risk management will lead to more resilient communities.

This is a great thought…but also maybe a no-brainer.

On reflection, this session also provides opportunity to reflect anew on five ways (there are undoubtedly others) we might make hazard risk management itself (and by implication, climate adaptation) more effective.

Embrace No-Adverse-Impact policies. Environmental impact statements have been with us a long time. You know the idea. When you and I contemplate construction, land use, etc., we have to assess the environmental consequences of our actions. In a similar way, we could and should assess the benefits and/or risks our plans and actions imply for community resilience.

Learn from experience. When it comes with natural hazard rsik management, we should adopt the learn-from-experience habits of aviation, as embodied in the work of the National Transportations Safety Board.

Measure progress. Hazard loss figures are noisy year-to-year and uncertain. But the discipline of continually honing our ability to estimate losses will in itself contribute to the awareness needed to motivate loss reduction when averaged over years.

Foster public-private collaboration. Such collaborations are not optional in today’s free-market societies. However, there’s considerable room for improving the level of such collaborations. They should not be fragmented, haphazard, merely tactical. They should instead be truly collaborative, ongoing, strategic.

Revitalize a venerable institution. Much has been made recently about a notional move of NOAA from the Department of Commerce into the Department of Interior. Dr. Lubchenco was questioned on this in her talk of yesterday. With NOAA embedded in Commerce, a good case can be made that the Department of Commerce provides an excellent home for achieving these several goals of hazard risk reduction and climate adaptation. However, this potential has been recognized and ignored for decades. If it’s never to be realized, then a move to Interior makes more sense.