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Collective Choices Affecting Natural Hazards Governance, Risk, and Vulnerability  

Thomas Thaler, David Shively, Jacob Petersen-Perlman, Lenka Slavikova, and Thomas Hartmann

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events are expected to increase due to climate change. These developments and challenges have focused the attention of policymakers on the question of how to manage natural hazards. The main political discourse revolves around the questions of how we can make our society more resilient for possible future events. A central challenge reflects collective choices, which affect natural hazards governance, risk, and individual and societal vulnerability. In particular, transboundary river basins present difficult and challenging decisions at local, regional, national, and international levels as they involve and engage large numbers of stakeholders. Each of these groups has different perspectives and interests in how to design and organize flood risk management, which often hinder transnational collaborations in terms of upstream–downstream or different riverbed cooperation. Numerous efforts to resolve these conflicts have historically been tried across the world, particularly in relation to institutional cooperation. Consequently, greater engagement of different countries in management of natural hazards risks could decrease international conflicts and increase capacity at regional and local levels to adapt to future hazard events. Better understanding of the issues, perspectives, choices, and potential for conflict, and clear sharing of responsibilities, is crucial for reducing impacts of future events at the transboundary level.


Risk and Resilience in the Management and Governance of Natural Hazards  

Christian Kuhlicke

The management of natural hazards is undergoing considerable transformation, including the establishment of risk-based management approaches, the encouragement to govern natural hazards more inclusively, and the rising relevance of the concept of resilience. The benefits of this transformation are usually framed like this: Risk-based approaches are regarded as a rational way of balancing the costs associated with mitigating the consequences of hazards and the anticipated benefits; inclusive modes of governing risks help to increase the acceptance and quality of management processes as well as their outcomes; and the concept of resilience is connoted positively since it demands a greater openness to uncertainties and aims at increasing the capacities of various actors to cope with radical surprises. However, the increasing consideration of both concepts in policy and decision-making processes is associated with a changing demarcation between public and private responsibilities and with an altering relationship between organizations involved in the management process and the wider public. To understand some of these dynamics, this contribution undertakes a change of perspective throughout its development: Instead of asking how the concepts of risk or resilience might be useful to improve the management and governance of natural hazards, one must understand how societies, particularly with regard to their handling of risks and hazards, are governed through the concepts of risk and resilience. Following this perspective, risk-based management approaches have a defensive function in deflecting blame and rationalizing policy choices ex-ante by enabling managing organizations to more clearly define which risks they are responsible for (i.e., non-acceptable risks) and which are beyond their responsibility (i.e., acceptable risks). This demarcation also has profound distributional effects as acceptable risks usually need to be mitigated individually, raising the question of how to ensure the just sharing of the differently distributed benefits and burdens of risk-based approaches. The concept of resilience in this context plays a paradoxical yet complementary role: In its more operational interpretation (e.g., adaptive management), resilience-based management approaches can be in conflict with risk-based approaches as they require those responsible for managing risks to follow antagonistic goals. While the idea of resilience puts an emphasis on openness and flexibility, risk-based approaches try to ensure proportionality by transforming uncertainties into calculable risks. At the same time, resilience-based governance approaches, with their emphasis on self-organization and learning, complement risk-based approaches in the sense that actors or communities that are exposed to “acceptable risks” are implicitly or explicitly made responsible for maintaining their own resilience, whereas the role of public authorities is usually restricted to an enabling one.