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Subject Area: Built Environment
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Article citation: Richard Haigh, Dilanthi Amaratunga, (2012) "Extreme weather will strike as climate change takes hold", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 3 Iss: 1, pp. -
November 2011 marked the release of a major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body of the world’s leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations. Their report warns that rising sea levels will increase the vulnerability of coastal areas, and the increase in “extreme weather events” will wipe billions off national economies and destroy lives.
Readers of this journal will probably be less surprised than many by these claims, as scientists have warned of these effects for years, but IPCC’s “special report on extreme weather” – compiled over two years by 220 scientists – is the first comprehensive examination of scientific knowledge on the subject, in an attempt to produce a definitive judgment. The report contains strong warnings for developing countries in particular, which are likely to be worst afflicted in part because of their geography but also because they are less well prepared for extreme weather in their infrastructure and have less economic resilience than developed nations. But the developed world will not escape unscathed – heavier bursts of rainfall, heatwaves and droughts are all likely to take their toll.
Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the report, said the message was clear – extreme weather events are more likely. “Some important extremes have changed and will change more in the future. There is clear and solid evidence. We also know much more about the causes of disaster losses.”
He urged governments to take note – many of the economic and human impacts of disasters can be avoided if prompt action is taken: “We are losing way too many lives and economic assets in disasters.”
Regarding the future, the assessment concludes that it is virtually certain that on a global scale hot days become even hotter and occur more often. “For the high emissions scenario, it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world”, said Thomas Stocker the other Co-chair of Working Group I. “Likewise, heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease”.
These, and the many other concerns that are highlighted throughout the report, may appear stark, but such warnings have been present in the scientific literature for years, including many of the articles that make up the International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment’s opening two volumes.
However, despite the large body of research that has already been published by scientists around the world, the summary report – every word of which has been agreed by the 194 governments that chose to take part – is also hedged with caveats, reflecting the difficulty in tying specific extreme weather events to human-induced global warming. As such events occur naturally, there will always be variability in where and how frequently they occur, and scientists must attempt to cancel out that “noise” in detecting an underlying trend.
These caveats are already being seized on by climate sceptics to bolster their contention that human-induced climate change will not present a severe threat. Attributing economic losses – such as the damage from storms and floods – is also tricky, because there are other factors involved. Increasing urbanisation and wealth mean that losses today, measured by insurers, are higher than in the past.
This point is likely to become particularly contentious in the future, as developed country governments are called upon to provide funding to the poor world to help people adapt to the effects of climate change.
Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, added that the report:
[…] underlines the complexity and the diversity of factors that are shaping human vulnerability to extremes – why for some communities and countries these can become disasters whereas for others they can be less severe.
In doing so, the report’s authors are also acknowledging the huge task ahead, particularly if, in these economically challenging times, governments are to be convinced of the need to find new money to invest now, and avoid the far higher costs of clean-up and lives lost later.
With this in mind, it is pleasing to see several of this issue’s contributors focusing on climate change vulnerability and adaptation.
Commencing this issue, Sunil Kumar Prashar and Rajib Shaw attempt to assess the role of institutions dealing with disaster risk in Delhi and propose possible solutions for disaster risk reduction. They use a Climate Disaster Resilience Index questionnaire survey to evaluate roles based on parameters such as disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation mainstreaming, effectiveness of crisis management framework, knowledge dissemination and management, institutional collaboration with other stakeholders, and good governance. Their findings show the institution’s limitations and strengths to face climate related disaster risk in Delhi, as well as possible areas for disaster risk reduction.
Following this, Pradeep K. Goyal, T.K. Datta and V.K. Vijay present a method for evaluating the vulnerability of rural houses to cyclonic wind for countries where systematic documentation and analysis of damage data are inadequate. A systematic procedure is presented for estimating the vulnerability of a cluster of rural houses to cyclones by performing a fragility analysis for different predefined damage states. The method is illustrated with the help of an example in which hundred rural houses are considered in a region.
In the third article Tun Lin Moe ponders how resilience leadership can be incorporated into environmental management and emergency management systems in organisations. The study includes a review of activities in resilience-building and the process of vision formation. Two environmental and emergency leadership organisations in Arizona are employed as case studies and used to demonstrate how situations can improve with resilience thinking and leadership in emergency and environmental management systems.
Hari Darshan Shrestha, Ryuichi Yatabe, Netra Prakash Bhandary and Jishnu Subedi use the fourth article to examine the cost-effectiveness of retrofitting existing buildings. They outline the process of vulnerability assessment and an approach to retrofitting. They move on to specifically consider retrofitting of rectangular single storey school buildings and use data collected from a case study carried out in Aceh, Indonesia. They conclude that retrofitting can be achieved through the use of simple methods, tools and equipment and local human resource.
In the final research article of this issue, Todd White, Samuel T. Ariaratnam and John Michael consider aspects of the systems that support a community and that are necessary to accomplish adequate long-range asset planning and protection. Through modifications of existing system components, they propose a subterranean infrastructure reconnaissance emphasis for the State of Arizona’s current vulnerability assessment tools. Their research focuses on examining the interdependencies and vulnerabilities of critical subterranean infrastructure.
This issue also includes Rotimi’s doctoral abstract, whose timely study provides an examination of improvements required to legislative provisions for post-disaster reconstruction in New Zealand.
Finally, the issue concludes with three news articles. The first notes the launch of IPCC’s Special Report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation”. The second reflects on the key outcomes from a major International Conference on Building Resilience that was held in Kandalama, Sri Lanka, while the third announces a call for abstracts on a special themed issue of this journal: “Improving resilience of existing infrastructure and built assets against extreme weather”.
Richard Haigh, Dilanthi Amaratunga