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Article

Climate Change as a Transboundary Policymaking Natural Hazards Problem  

Elizabeth Albright

Throughout the world, major climate-related catastrophic events have devastated lives and livelihoods. These events are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity across the globe, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to accumulate in our atmosphere. The causes and consequences of these disasters are not constrained to geographic and political boundaries, or even temporal scales, increasing the complexity of their management. Differences in cultures, governance and policy processes often occur among jurisdictions in a transboundary setting, whether adjacent nations that are exposed to the same transboundary hazard or across municipalities located within the same political jurisdiction. Political institutions and processes may vary across jurisdictions in a region, presenting challenges to cooperation and coordination of risk management. With shifting climates, risks from climate-related natural hazards are in constant flux, increasing the difficulty of making predictions about and governing these risks. Further, different groups of individuals may be exposed to the same climate hazard, but that exposure may affect these groups in unique ways. Managing climate change as a transboundary natural hazard may mandate a shift from a focus on individual climate risks to developing capacity to encourage learning from and adaptation to a diversity of climatic risks that span boundaries. Potential barriers to adaptation to climate risks must not be considered individually but rather as a part of a more dynamic system in which multiple barriers may interact, impeding effective management. Greater coordination horizontally, for example through networks linking cities, and vertically, across multiple levels of governance (e.g., local, regional, national, global), may aid in the development of increased capacity to deal with these transboundary risks. Greater public engagement in management of risks from climate change hazards, both in risk mitigation and post-hazard recovery, could increase local-level capacity to adapt to these hazards.

Article

Assessment and Adaptation to Climate Change-Related Flood Risks  

Brenden Jongman, Hessel C. Winsemius, Stuart A. Fraser, Sanne Muis, and Philip J. Ward

The flooding of rivers and coastlines is the most frequent and damaging of all natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2016, total direct damages exceeded $1.6 trillion, and at least 225,000 people lost their lives. Recent events causing major economic losses include the 2011 river flooding in Thailand ($40 billion) and the 2013 coastal floods in the United States caused by Hurricane Sandy (over $50 billion). Flooding also triggers great humanitarian challenges. The 2015 Malawi floods were the worst in the country’s history and were followed by food shortage across large parts of the country. Flood losses are increasing rapidly in some world regions, driven by economic development in floodplains and increases in the frequency of extreme precipitation events and global sea level due to climate change. The largest increase in flood losses is seen in low-income countries, where population growth is rapid and many cities are expanding quickly. At the same time, evidence shows that adaptation to flood risk is already happening, and a large proportion of losses can be contained successfully by effective risk management strategies. Such risk management strategies may include floodplain zoning, construction and maintenance of flood defenses, reforestation of land draining into rivers, and use of early warning systems. To reduce risk effectively, it is important to know the location and impact of potential floods under current and future social and environmental conditions. In a risk assessment, models can be used to map the flow of water over land after an intense rainfall event or storm surge (the hazard). Modeled for many different potential events, this provides estimates of potential inundation depth in flood-prone areas. Such maps can be constructed for various scenarios of climate change based on specific changes in rainfall, temperature, and sea level. To assess the impact of the modeled hazard (e.g., cost of damage or lives lost), the potential exposure (including buildings, population, and infrastructure) must be mapped using land-use and population density data and construction information. Population growth and urban expansion can be simulated by increasing the density or extent of the urban area in the model. The effects of floods on people and different types of buildings and infrastructure are determined using a vulnerability function. This indicates the damage expected to occur to a structure or group of people as a function of flood intensity (e.g., inundation depth and flow velocity). Potential adaptation measures such as land-use change or new flood defenses can be included in the model in order to understand how effective they may be in reducing flood risk. This way, risk assessments can demonstrate the possible approaches available to policymakers to build a less risky future.

Article

Fatalism, Causal Reasoning, and Natural Hazards  

John McClure

Fatalism about natural disasters hinders action to prepare for those disasters, and overcoming this fatalism is one key element to preparing people for these disasters. Research by Bostrom and colleagues shows that failure to act often reflects gaps and misconceptions in citizen’s mental models of disasters. Research by McClure and colleagues shows that fatalistic attitudes reflect people’s attributing damage to uncontrollable natural causes rather than controllable human actions, such as preparation. Research shows which precise features of risk communications lead people to see damage as preventable and to attribute damage to controllable human actions. Messages that enhance the accuracy of mental models of disasters by including human factors recognized by experts lead to increased preparedness. Effective messages also communicate that major damage in disasters is often distinctive and reflects controllable causes. These messages underpin causal judgments that reduce fatalism and enhance preparation. Many of these messages are not only beneficial but also newsworthy. Messages that are logically equivalent but are differently framed have varying effects on risk judgments and preparedness. The causes of harm in disasters are often contested, because they often imply human responsibility for the outcomes and entail significant cost.

Article

Lessons on Risk Governance From the UNISDR Experience  

Sálvano Briceño

In the context of this article, risk governance addresses the ways and means—or institutional framework—to lead and manage the issue of risk related to natural phenomena, events, or hazards, also referred to popularly, although incorrectly, as “natural disasters.” At the present time, risk related to natural phenomena includes a major focus on the issue of climate change with which it is intimately connected, climate change being a major source of risk. To lead involves mainly defining policies and proposing legislation, hence proposing goals, conducting, promoting, orienting, providing a vision—namely, reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods as part of sustainable development—also, raising awareness and educating on the topic and addressing the ethical perspective that motivates and facilitates engagement by citizens. To manage involves, among other things, proposing organizational and technical arrangements, as well as regulations allowing the implementation of policies and legislation. Also, it involves monitoring and supervising such implementation to draw further lessons to periodically enhance the policies, legislation, regulations, and organizational and technical arrangements. UNISDR (now known as UNDRR) was established in 2000 to promote and facilitate risk reduction, becoming in a few years one of the main promoters of risk governance in the world and the main global advocate from within the United Nations system. It was an honor to serve as the first director of the UNISDR (2001–2011). A first lesson to be drawn from this experience was the need to identify, understand, and address the obstacles not allowing the implementation of what seems to be obvious to the scientific community but of difficult implementation by governments, private sector, and civil society; and alternatively, the reasons for shortcomings and weaknesses in risk governance. A second lesson identified was that risk related to natural phenomena also provides lessons for governance related to other types of risk in society—environmental, financial, health, security, and so on, each a separate and specialized topic, sharing, however, common risk governance approaches. A third lesson was the relevance of understanding leadership and management as essential components in governance. Drawing lessons on one’s own experience is always risky as it involves some subjectivity in the analysis. In the article, the aim has, nonetheless, been at the utmost objectivity on the essential learnings in having conducted the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction—UNISDR—from 2001 to around 2009 when leading and managing was shared with another manager, as I prepared for retirement in 2011. Additional lessons are identified, including those related to risk governance as it is academically conceived, hence, what risk governance includes and how it has been implemented by different international, regional, national, and local authorities. Secondly, I identify those lessons related to the experience of leading and managing an organization focused on disaster risk at the international level and in the context of the United Nations system.

Article

Extending a Gendered Lens to Reduce Disaster- and Climate-Related Risk in Southern Africa  

Kylah Forbes-Biggs and Darren Lortan

The social construct of gender has been used to perpetuate an uneven treatment of women and men in various contexts and settings. Lessons learned through understanding this inequality and its role in shaping the differential impact of hazards and disasters on women and girls have led to the acknowledgment that their unique vulnerabilities and strengths need to be incorporated into planning and policy to reduce disaster- and climate-related risk. Notwithstanding these achievements, this incorporation into planning and policy has engendered little meaningful change at community and household levels. This focus on women and girls has had the further unintended consequence of overlooking the vulnerabilities experienced by those who do not necessarily identify as male or female and by those who may be prone to discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Certain aspects influencing the lived experiences of gender and sexual minorities are different from those of heterosexual women and girls. While some of the differential treatment they encounter may overlap, many of the discriminating practices target these gender and sexual minorities. The sentiments of others who advocate for extending the gendered lens approach employed in disaster and climate change research are echoed to include all within the continuum of gender and sexual minorities. Reported experiences of some these communities are explored in the context of disaster and climate change, drawing on lessons learned from their accounts. The focus is on the southern African geographical region, where gender inequality is predominant, and the growing threats posed by a changing climate and increasing hazard frequency and magnitude, exacerbate the vulnerabilities that the population may already be exposed to. This gendered-lens approach to the study of disaster- and climate-related risk is a purposeful examination of inequality across the gendered continuum intended to encourage inclusive planning, policy, and practice that are necessary for broader systemic change and foregrounding transformative action.