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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

How Perceptions of Risks Affect Responses to Climate Change: Implications for Water Resource Planning  

Sonia Akter and Shaleen Khanal

The link between risk perception and risk response is not straightforward. There are several individual, community, and national factors that determine how climate change risk is perceived and how much of the perception translates to response. The nexus between risk perception and risk response in the context of water resource management at the individual, household, community, and institutional level has been subject of a large body of theoretical and empirical studies from around the globe. At the individual level, vulnerability, exposure, and cognitive factors are important determinants of climate change risk perception and response. At the community level, risk perception is determined by culture, social pressure, and group identity. Responses to risk vary depending on the level of social cohesion and collective action. At the national level, public support is a key determinant of institutional response to climate change, particularly for democratic nations. The level of global cooperation and major polluting countries’ willingness to curb their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions also deeply influence policymakers’ decisions to respond to climate change risk.

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

The Role of Uncertainty in Controlling Climate Change  

Yongyang Cai

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) of the climate and economy aim to analyze the impact and efficacy of policies that aim to control climate change, such as carbon taxes and subsidies. A major characteristic of IAMs is that their geophysical sector determines the mean surface temperature increase over the preindustrial level, which in turn determines the damage function. Most of the existing IAMs assume that all of the future information is known. However, there are significant uncertainties in the climate and economic system, including parameter uncertainty, model uncertainty, climate tipping risks, and economic risks. For example, climate sensitivity, a well-known parameter that measures how much the equilibrium temperature will change if the atmospheric carbon concentration doubles, can range from below 1 to more than 10 in the literature. Climate damages are also uncertain. Some researchers assume that climate damages are proportional to instantaneous output, while others assume that climate damages have a more persistent impact on economic growth. The spatial distribution of climate damages is also uncertain. Climate tipping risks represent (nearly) irreversible climate events that may lead to significant changes in the climate system, such as the Greenland ice sheet collapse, while the conditions, probability of tipping, duration, and associated damage are also uncertain. Technological progress in carbon capture and storage, adaptation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency are uncertain as well. Future international cooperation and implementation of international agreements in controlling climate change may vary over time, possibly due to economic risks, natural disasters, or social conflict. In the face of these uncertainties, policy makers have to provide a decision that considers important factors such as risk aversion, inequality aversion, and sustainability of the economy and ecosystem. Solving this problem may require richer and more realistic models than standard IAMs and advanced computational methods. The recent literature has shown that these uncertainties can be incorporated into IAMs and may change optimal climate policies significantly.

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

Communicating about Nuclear Energy and Climate Change  

Shirley S. Ho

In comparison to fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, nuclear power plants are a cleaner energy source that could help to mitigate the problems of climate change. Despite this, the general public often associates nuclear energy with risks that include nuclear accidents, nuclear waste contamination, nuclear weapons proliferation, and many others. People’s experience with the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine have caused a sharp decline in public support for nuclear energy over the past few decades. In addition, media images of the 2011 Fukushima-Daichii nuclear accident are still fresh in the minds of the public. These now iconic media images and portrayals have perpetuated a perception of nuclear energy as a risky technology. Against these backdrops, scientists, communication practitioners and other key stakeholders increasingly face an uphill struggle to communicate about nuclear energy as a possible strategy for addressing climate change. Though the general public may reluctantly accept nuclear energy for climate change mitigation, research suggests that messages emphasizing the benefits of nuclear power for energy security and economic growth appear to have greater impact on public acceptance of the technology. Furthermore, public perception of nuclear energy is shaped by a host of other factors such as trust in nuclear governing institutions, knowledge, political inclinations, geographical proximity, and socio-demographic variables. At the same time, nuclear experts and the general public differ in their perceptions of risk, in nature and strength, relative to nuclear energy. Understanding these key differences between the experts and the public, and how beliefs, values, and perceptions influence public acceptance of nuclear energy is necessary to formulate effective public communication and engagement strategies.

Article

Communicating about Biofuels and Climate Change  

Michael A. Cacciatore

Biofuels are produced from biomass, which is any organic matter that can be burned or otherwise used to produce heat or energy. While not a new technology—biofuels have been around for well over 100 years—they are experiencing something of a renaissance in the United States and other countries across the globe. Today, biofuels have become the single most common alternative energy source in the U.S. transportation sector with billions of gallons of the fuel produced annually. The expansion of the bio-based economy in recent years has been intertwined with mounting concerns about environmental pollution and the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, for example, biofuels mandates have been championed as key to solving not only the country’s increasing energy demand problems and reliance on foreign oil, but also growing fears about global climate change. Of course, the use of biomass and biofuels to combat global climate change has been highly controversial. While proponents argue that biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, research has suggested that any reductions in CO2 emissions are offset by land use considerations and the energy required in the biofuels-production process. How publics perceive of climate change as a problem and the use of biomass and biofuels as potential solutions will go a long way toward determining the policies that government’s implement to address this issue.

Article

Determinants and Measurement of Climate Change Risk Perception, Worry, and Concern  

Sander van der Linden

Individuals, both within and between different countries, vary substantially in the extent to which they view climate change as a risk. What could explain such variation in climate change risk perception around the world? Climate change is relatively unique as a risk in the sense that it is difficult for people to experience directly or even detect on a purely perceptual or sensory level. In fact, research across the social and behavioral sciences has shown that although people might correctly perceive some changes in long-term climate conditions, psychological factors are often much more influential in determining how the public perceives the risk of climate change. Indeed, decades of research has shown that cognitive, affective, social, and cultural factors all greatly influence the public’s perception of risk, and that these factors, in turn, often interact with each other in complex ways. Yet, although a wide variety of cognitive, experiential, socio-cultural and demographic characteristics have all proven to be relevant, are there certain factors that systematically stand out in explaining and predicting climate change risk perception around the world? And even if so, what do we mean, exactly, by the term “risk perception” and to what extent does the way in which risk perception is measured influence the outcome? Last but certainly not least, how important is public concern about climate change in determining people’s level of behavioral engagement and policy-support for the issue?

Article

Climate Change Adaptation  

Philipp Schmidt-Thomé

Climate change adaptation is the ability of a society or a natural system to adjust to the (changing) conditions that support life in a certain climate region, including weather extremes in that region. The current discussion on climate change adaptation began in the 1990s, with the publication of the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since the beginning of the 21st century, most countries, and many regions and municipalities have started to develop and implement climate change adaptation strategies and plans. But since the implementation of adaptation measures must be planned and conducted at the local level, a major challenge is to actually implement adaptation to climate change in practice. One challenge is that scientific results are mainly published on international or national levels, and political guidelines are written at transnational (e.g., European Union), national, or regional levels—these scientific results must be downscaled, interpreted, and adapted to local municipal or community levels. Needless to say, the challenges for implementation are also rooted in a large number of uncertainties, from long time spans to matters of scale, as well as in economic, political, and social interests. From a human perspective, climate change impacts occur rather slowly, while local decision makers are engaged with daily business over much shorter time spans. Among the obstacles to implementing adaptation measures to climate change are three major groups of uncertainties: (a) the uncertainties surrounding the development of our future climate, which include the exact climate sensitivity of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the reliability of emission scenarios and underlying storylines, and inherent uncertainties in climate models; (b) uncertainties about anthropogenically induced climate change impacts (e.g., long-term sea level changes, changing weather patterns, and extreme events); and (c) uncertainties about the future development of socioeconomic and political structures as well as legislative frameworks. Besides slow changes, such as changing sea levels and vegetation zones, extreme events (natural hazards) are a factor of major importance. Many societies and their socioeconomic systems are not properly adapted to their current climate zones (e.g., intensive agriculture in dry zones) or to extreme events (e.g., housing built in flood-prone areas). Adaptation measures can be successful only by gaining common societal agreement on their necessity and overall benefit. Ideally, climate change adaptation measures are combined with disaster risk reduction measures to enhance resilience on short, medium, and long time scales. The role of uncertainties and time horizons is addressed by developing climate change adaptation measures on community level and in close cooperation with local actors and stakeholders, focusing on strengthening resilience by addressing current and emerging vulnerability patterns. Successful adaptation measures are usually achieved by developing “no-regret” measures, in other words—measures that have at least one function of immediate social and/or economic benefit as well as long-term, future benefits. To identify socially acceptable and financially viable adaptation measures successfully, it is useful to employ participatory tools that give all involved parties and decision makers the possibility to engage in the process of identifying adaptation measures that best fit collective needs.

Article

Dynamic Water Pricing  

R. Quentin Grafton, Long Chu, and Paul Wyrwoll

Water insecurity poses threats to both human welfare and ecological systems. Global water abstractions (extractions) have increased threefold over the period 1960–2010, and an increasing trend in abstractions is expected to continue. Rising water use is placing significant pressure on water resources, leading to depletion of surface and underground water systems, and exposing up to 4 billion people to high levels of seasonal or persistent water insecurity. Climate change is deepening the risks of water scarcity by increasing rainfall variability. By the 2050s, the water–climate change challenge could cause an additional 620 million people to live with chronic water shortage and increase by 75% the proportion of cropland exposed to drought. While there is no single solution to water scarcity or water justice, increasing the benefits of water use through better planning and incentives can help. Pricing is an effective tool to regulate water consumption for irrigation, for residential uses, and especially in response to droughts. For a water allocation to be efficient, the water price paid by users should be equal to the marginal economic cost of water supply. Accounting for all costs of supply is important even though, in practice, water prices are typically set to meet a range of social and political objectives. Dynamic water pricing provides a tool for increasing allocative efficiency in short-term water allocation and the long-term planning of water resources. A dynamic relationship exists between water consumption at a point in time and water scarcity in the future. Thus, dynamic water pricing schemes may take into account the benefit of consuming water at that time and also the water availability that could be used should a drought occur in the future. Dynamic water pricing can be applied with the risk-adjusted user cost (RAUC), which measures the risk impact of current water consumption on the welfare of future water users.

Article

Natural Hazards and Their Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Dewald van Niekerk and Livhuwani David Nemakonde

The sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region, along with the rest of the African continent, is prone to a wide variety of natural hazards. Most of these hazards and the associated disasters are relatively silent and insidious, encroaching on life and livelihoods, increasing social, economic, and environmental vulnerability even to moderate events. With the majority of SSA’s disasters being of hydrometeorological origin, climate change through an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events is likely to exacerbate the situation. Whereas a number of countries in SSA face significant governance challenges to effectively respond to disasters and manage risk reduction measures, considerable progress has been made since the early 2000s in terms of policies, strategies, and/or institutional mechanisms to advance disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management. As such, most countries in SSA have developed/reviewed policies, strategies, and plans and put in place institutions with dedicated staffs and resources for natural hazard management. However, the lack of financial backing, limited skills, lack of coordination among sectors, weak political leadership, inadequate communication, and shallow natural hazard risk assessment, hinders effective natural hazard management in SSA. The focus here is on the governance of natural hazards in the sub-Saharan Africa region, and an outline of SSA’s natural hazard profile is presented. Climate change is increasing the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, thus influencing the occurrence of natural hazards in this region. Also emphasized are good practices in natural hazard governance, and SSA’s success stories are described. Finally, recommendations on governance arrangements for effective implementation of disaster risk reduction initiatives and measures are provided.

Article

Climate and Environmental Crises  

Victor Galaz

Climate change is increasingly being framed as a “climate crisis.” Such a crisis could be viewed both to unfold in the climate system, as well as to be induced by it in diverse areas of society. Following from current understandings of modern crises, it is clear that climate change indeed can be defined as a “crisis.” As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5oC special report elaborates, the repercussions of a warming planet include increased food insecurity, increased frequency and intensity of severe droughts, extreme heat waves, the loss of coral reef ecosystems and associated marine species, and more. It is also important to note that a range of possible climate-induced crises (through, e.g., possible increased food insecurity and weather extremes) will not be distributed evenly, but will instead disproportionally affect already vulnerable social groups, communities, and countries in detrimental ways. The multifaceted dimensions of climate change allow for multiple interpretations and framings of “climate crisis,” thereby forcing us to acknowledge the deeply contextual nature of what is understood as a “crisis.” Climate change and its associated crises display a number of challenging properties that stem from its connections to basically all sectors in society, its propensity to induce and in itself embed nonlinear changes such as “tipping points” and cascading shocks, and its unique and challenging long-term temporal dimensions. The latter pose particularly difficult decision-making and institutional challenges because initial conditions (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions) do not result in immediate or proportional responses (say, global temperature anomalies), but instead play out through feedbacks among the climate system, oceans, the cryosphere, and changes in forest biomes, with some considerable delays in time. Additional challenges emerge from the fact that early warnings of pending so-called “catastrophic shifts” face numerous obstacles, and that early responses are undermined by a lack of knowledge, complex causality, and severe coordination challenges.

Article

Linking Hazard Vulnerability, Risk Reduction, and Adaptation  

Jörn Birkmann and Joanna M. McMillan

The concepts of vulnerability, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are interlinked. Risk reduction requires a focus not just on the hazards themselves or on the people and structures exposed to hazards but on the vulnerability of those exposed. Vulnerability helps with the identification of root causes that make people or structures susceptible to being affected by natural and climate-related hazards. It is therefore an essential component of reducing risk of disasters and of adapting to climate change. The need to better assess and acknowledge vulnerability has been recognized by several communities of thought and practice, including the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) communities. The concept of vulnerability was introduced during the 1980s as a way to better understand the differential consequences of similar hazard events and differential impacts of climate change on different societies or social groups and physical structures. Since then, the concept gradually became an integral part of discourses around disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Although the history of the emergence of vulnerability concepts and the different perspectives of these communities mean the way they frame vulnerability differs, the academic discourse has reached wide agreement that risk—and actual harm and losses—are not just caused by physical events apparently out of human control but primarily by what is exposed and vulnerable to those events. In the international policy arena, vulnerability, risk, and adaptation concepts are now integrated into the global agenda on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and climate change. In the context of international development projects and financial aid, the terms and concepts are increasingly used and applied. However, there is still too little focus on addressing underlying vulnerabilities.

Article

Economics of Insurance Against Natural Disaster Risks  

W. J. Wouter Botzen

Increasing natural disaster losses in the past decades and expectations that this trend will accelerate under climate change motivated the development of a branch of literature on the economics of natural disaster insurance. A starting point for assessing the implications of climate change for insurance and developing risk management strategies is understanding the factors underlying historical loss trends and the way that future risks will develop. Most studies have pointed toward socioeconomic developments as the main cause of historical trends in natural disaster risks. Moreover, evidence reveals that climate change has been a contributing factor, which is expected to grow in importance in the future. Several supply and demand side obstacles may prevent natural disaster insurance from optimally fulfilling its desirable function of offering financial protection at affordable premiums. Climate change is expected to further hamper the insurability of natural disaster risks, unless insurers and governments proactively respond to climate change, for example by linking insurance coverage with risk reduction activities. A branch of literature has developed about how the functioning of insurance should be improved to cope with climate change. This includes industry-level responses, reforms of insurance market structures, such as public–private natural disaster insurance provision, and recommendations for addressing behavioral biases in insurance demand and for stimulating risk reduction. In view of the rising economic losses of natural disasters, this field of study is likely to remain an active one.

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

Mental Models and Risk Perceptions Related to Climate Change  

Ann Bostrom

Mental models are the sets of causal beliefs we “run” in our minds to infer what will happen in a given event or situation. Mental models, like other models, are useful simplifications most of the time. They can, however, lead to mistaken or misleading inferences, for example, if the analogies that inform them are misleading in some regard. The coherence and consistency of mental models a person employs to solve a given problem are a function of that person’s expertise. The less familiar and central a problem is, the less coherent and consistent the mental models brought to bear on that problem are likely to be. For problems such as those posed by anthropogenic climate change, most people are likely to recruit multiple mental models to make judgments and decisions. Common types of mental models of climate change and global warming include: (a) a carbon emissions model, in which global warming is a result of burning fossil fuels thereby emitting CO2, and of deforestation, which both releases sequestered CO2 and decreases the possible sinks that might take CO2 out of the atmosphere; (b) a stratospheric ozone depletion mental model, which conflates stratospheric ozone depletion with global warming; (c) an air pollution mental model, in which global warming is viewed as air pollution; and (d) a weather change model, in which weather and climate are conflated. As social discourse around global warming and climate change has increased, mental models of climate change have become more complex, although not always more coherent. One such complexity is the belief that climate changes according to natural cycles and due to factors beyond human control, in addition to changes resulting from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and releasing other greenhouse gases. As our inference engines, mental models play a central role in problem solving and subjective projections and are hence at the heart of risk perceptions and risk decision-making. However, both perceiving and making decisions about climate change and the risks thereof are affective and social processes foremost.

Article

Public Knowledge, Scientific Literacy, Numeracy, and Perceptions of Climate Change  

Jaime Gilden and Ellen Peters

It is a widely accepted scientific fact that our climate is changing and that this change is caused by human activity. Despite the scientific consensus, many individuals in the United States fail to grasp the extent of the consensus and continue to deny both the existence and cause of climate change; the proportion of the population holding these beliefs has been stable in recent history. Most of the American public also believe they know a lot about climate change although knowledge tests do not always reflect their positive perceptions. There are two frequent hypotheses about public knowledge and climate change beliefs: (a) providing the public with more climate science information, thus making them more knowledgeable, will bring the beliefs of the public closer to those of climate scientists and (b) individuals with greater cognitive ability (e.g., scientific literacy or numeracy) will have climate change beliefs more like those of experts. However, data do not always support this proposed link between knowledge, ability, and beliefs. A better predictor of beliefs in the United States is political identity. For example, compared to liberals, conservatives consistently perceive less risk from climate change and, perhaps as a result, are less likely to hold scientifically accurate climate change beliefs, regardless of their cognitive abilities. And greater knowledge and ability, rather than being related to more accurate climate change beliefs, tend to relate to increased polarization across political identities, such that the difference in beliefs between conservatives and liberals with high cognitive ability is greater than the difference in beliefs between conservatives and liberals with low cognitive ability.

Article

Economic Conditions and Public Opinion on Climate Change  

Salil Benegal and Lyle Scruggs

How do economic conditions affect public opinion about climate change? Since the early days of the modern environmental movement, people have debated three main perspectives on how economic conditions impact environmental attitudes. The post-materialism perspective suggests that social and individual affluence leads to increasing concern and demands for action on climate change through long-run cultural change. A second view suggests that attitudes about climate change are shaped largely independently of economic conditions and reflect the emergence of a new environmental paradigm. A third view, associated with ecological modernization theory, suggests that attitudes about climate change are shaped in important ways by short-term economic factors, such as economic self-interest, and are likely to vary among citizens over time. While all of these perspectives have merit, we emphasize the impact of macroeconomic risk and business cycle fluctuations in shaping public attitudes toward climate change and more general aspects of environmental policy. Rising unemployment rates, for example, tend to be associated with declines in concern about environmental problems. This is a trend that is repeated across more than four decades and multiple recessions and recoveries dating back to the 1970s. Although it is obviously a more recently recognized environmental problem, public attitudes about climate change are also affected considerably by short-run economic conditions. This fact can influence the possibilities for policy reform. Through a process of motivated reasoning, in which immediate concerns and preferences to address economic risk lead individuals to adjust other attitudes about the environment, public concerns about climate change have ebbed and flowed with the business cycle. Other economic factors—such as societal affluence, personal employment status, or income—have more limited effects on attitudes about climate change, at least in most developed countries. The impact of economic risk on public attitudes about climate change has important implications for policy reform in democratic societies, because public support matters. While partisanship and ideology are frequently cited as explanations for fluctuating public opinion about climate change, macroeconomic risk offers a complementary explanation, which suggests that the framing and timing of environmental policy initiatives is as important as ideological acceptability. Positioning environmental actions or initiatives in better economic conditions, emphasizing immediate economic benefits, and countering unwarranted beliefs about personal costs, especially during challenging economic circumstances, should improve the prospects for efforts to address climate change.

Article

The Impact of Reinsurance  

Niels Viggo Haueter

Reinsurance is perceived to have a stabilizing effect on the direct insurance industry and thereby on the economy overall. Yet, research into how exactly reinsurance impacts various areas is scarce. Traditionally, studying the impact of reinsurance used to be in the domain of actuaries; since the 1960s, they have tried to assess how different contract elements can provide what came to be called “optimal reinsurance.” In the 2010s, such research was intensified in developing countries with the aim to deploy reinsurance to support economic growth and security. Interest in reinsurance increased when the industry became more visible in the 1990s as the impact of natural catastrophes started being linked to a changing climate. Reinsurers emerged as spokespeople for climate-related issues, and the industry took a lead role in arguing in favor of implementing measures to reduce environmental deterioration. Reinsurers, it was argued, have a vested interest in managing the impact of natural catastrophes. This triggered discussions about the role of reinsurance overall and about how to assess its impact. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, interest in reinsurance again surged, this time due to perceived systemic impacts.

Article

Perceptions of and Resilience to Coastal Climate Risks  

Beate Ratter and Catherine Leyshon

Coasts are dynamic places operated on by powerful natural and human forces. They are also historically attractive places for human settlement and use, with a still constantly growing concentration of people due to increased population growth and migration toward the coast. Coastal societies historically have evolved and developed culturally embedded relationships with their environment, which have resulted in different cultural settings, influencing the way they experience and react toward climate change impacts in their lifeworld. Coastal risks are specific to different regional, natural, and societal settings and can be distinguished between slow-onset (e.g., sea level rise or ocean acidification) and sudden extreme events (e.g., tropical cyclones or storm surges). Coastal climate risks come from flooding, storms, storm surges, saltwater intrusion, invasive species, declining fish stocks or shifting species’ regimes, coral bleaching, coastal erosion, and morphological change. For centuries, coastal societies have learned to defend the coast against threats from the sea with a broad range of technical measures based on a long history of trial and error, with successes and failures. Further, for centuries, littoral societies have constructed coasts and infrastructure according to their interests and needs (e.g., engineering the coastline, installing coastal defenses, constructing harbor and landing infrastructures, and even claiming land from the sea). Risks at the coast have always been there—but are exacerbated by climate change. A more integrated and transdisciplinary approach to understanding coastal climate risks is required, in keeping with the characterization of climate change as a wicked problem. The ways in which individuals, societies, and politics respond to climate change are in many cases contingent on perceptions of its causes, consequences, and wider implications. To study climate change impacts, therefore, an improved understand is required of the place-specific perception of coast and of coastal climate risks. These perceptions, along with other influencing factors, such as economic interests and politics, will inform the societal resilience and response of a coastal community. Resilience—understood as people’s ability to respond adequately to shocks and stressors—is place-dependent and closely connected to historic experiences and learning processes in dealing with hazards as well as the existing political and institutional arrangements that underpin governance structures. Resilience does not simply reflect the expected effects of quantifiable factors such as level of assets, or even less quantifiable social processes such as people’s experience, but is also determined by more subjective dimensions related to people’s perceptions of their ability to cope, adapt, or transform in the face of adverse events. Based on the existing place-specific experience of the littoral society, with its liminal environment and development, adaptation strategies and policies for the future need to be developed between the extremes of “living with” and “making way for” coastal and climate changes. Against this background, climate change adaptation (CCA) strategies have to be integrated and merged with disaster risk reduction (DRR) challenges, based on the integration of multiple interests in a transdisciplinary way. Societal risk construction and negotiation are crucial elements of integrative risk management, requiring participative, transparent, and flexible processes for the implementation of discursive practices and—in extreme situations—the transformation of governance structures. To understand and evaluate climate change adaptation strategies and measures along the coastline, climate change impacts threatening coastal livelihoods have to be understood alongside the societal frames of CCA policies. The capacity to adapt to changing conditions is based on the ability to develop new risk cultures and the flexibility to transition by (a) developing new norms, practices, and material culture; (b) resisting the lock-ins from routines and habits; and (c) guiding changes through scrutinizing new options or creating technocultural niches that favor certain technologies over others. Adaptive capacity in coastal societies plays an important role in dealing with coastal climate risks. The focal questions are the following: Which societal frames of climate change perception precondition adaptation? Which risks are perceived? Which cultural and political barriers hinder successful adaptation? How can DRR be integrated in CCA endeavors and future climate-resilient and sustainable pathways?