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Enhanced resilience may be our only chance of managing climate change

In an ideal scenario, the forces of nature unleashed by climate change can be reversed. However, as the planet heads toward the point of no return, it is imperative to enhance risk management and increase resilience against natural disasters.
Enhanced resilience may be our only chance of managing climate change
The year 2016 was the hottest on record, with 2017 also showing early signs of possibly breaking yet another record. As climate change leads to unpredictable extreme weather conditions, from unprecedented flooding to massive forest fires, an ambitious EU-funded project – ENHANCE (Enhancing risk management partnerships for catastrophic natural disasters in Europe) – has sought to minimise risks through direct risk reduction.

Working on new ways to enhance society’s resilience to extreme natural hazards, it brought together a group of specialised partners from the public and private sectors across Europe in multi-sector partnerships (MSPs). ‘Our research shows that MSPs can significantly improve disaster risk management and reduce risk by over 40%,’ says Jeroen Aerts, project coordinator from Stichting VU in the Netherlands. ‘There is an urgent need for improved cooperation among the public sector, private sector and individual households in combating extreme events,’ he notes.

The project involved 10 case studies related to managing risk from catastrophic events, including forest fires, floods, heatwaves, drought, volcanic eruptions and storm surges. It produced guidelines to help MSPs reduce the risk and become more resilient, providing methods that link MSPs to the latest scientific risk scenarios and assessments. ‘We created a toolbox of economic instruments and non-structural mitigation measures to assess risk and increase societal resilience,’ explains Mr Aerts.

‘Apart from assessing direct risk from disasters such as damaged buildings and infrastructure we developed a method to detect indirect economic effects in areas not directly affected,’ adds Mr Aerts. ‘These indirect economic damages may account up to 40% of the total damage.’ He points out, however, that more research is needed to further assess adaptation options for the private sector in order to reduce this risk.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the project’s guidelines, policy recommendations and findings can empower stakeholders to reduce risk and manage climate change. ‘Risk transfer schemes such as insurance and the EU Solidarity Fund in the context of climate change are only viable with a considerable increase in physical protection measures and disaster risk reduction,’ says Mr Aerts. ‘Without direct risk reduction, premiums such as for flood insurance under the EU climate change vision for 2050 in several EU countries may increase by up to 120%,’ he warns.

In line with international UN bodies, ENHANCE has found that risk extremes and economic damage must be taken into account in international risk reduction and risk financing initiatives. Reliable and accurate risk information is key for an MSP to function properly. ‘For this to happen, the availability of data on empirical loss is imperative, and a concerted action is needed to make such data public,’ says Mr Aerts.

The project has ascertained that risk perception is an important driver for direct risk reduction. ‘Risk perception is largely influenced by factors such as experience with previous disasters, financial incentives and socio-economic conditions of individuals,’ explains Mr Aerts. ‘By better targeting individual behaviour of households towards direct risk reduction, for example through communication and financial incentives such as insurance deductibles, risk reduction can be improved up to 35 %.’

ENHANCE has shown that all stakeholders can contribute to direct risk reduction. Climate change is now a fact, and project findings will help manage its impact to ensure the well-being of future generations.

Keywords

Climate change, risk management, natural disasters, ENHANCE, risk reduction, multi-sector partnerships
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