Climate change missing from government risk agendas

By Leena Ilmola-Sheppard, IIASA Advanced Systems Analysis Program

When government officials speak about risks, they are usually referring to natural disasters. And it seems in these discussions that the increasing frequency of flooding, droughts, snow storms, and hurricanes have no link to climate change nor mitigation of it.

Last week,  I had an opportunity to sit and listen to discussions at the fourth annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) High Level Risk Forum.  The objective of the forum is to initiate joint development of the national level risk management tools and procedures.  National risk directors form their Prime Minister’s Offices and OECD ambassadors spent three rainy days from December 10-12 discussing risk.

The most of the time, the discussion centered around disaster risks.  Whatever the theme of the  session, the discussion ended up on disaster management, disaster costs, or best practices. This is a theme that was recognized to be of importance in every government.  The other risks that were presented were terrorism, the Ebola epidemic, and illicit trade. The missing themes–that I had expected to be on the agenda–were technology related, financial risks and political risks.

Photo Credit: Ched Cheddles via Flickr

Governments usually take risk to mean natural disasters – but missing from most discussions are climate change, technology, financial, and political risks. Here: storm clouds over England in September 2014. Photo Credit: Ched Cheddles via Flickr

Margaret Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, gave the best presentation. Her key message war that climate change related issues were not integrated well enough with risk management.  Kate White from the US Army Corps of Engineers supported Wahlstrom by stating that the climate change will radically change disaster management goals, procedures, and volume of investment.  There should be a strong motivation for that, she said, as disasters are coming more expensive.  According to her data, the total cost of hurricane Sandy was 65 billion US$.

The Australian government calculations presented in the meeting are very revealing as well; from Australian government is spending around 400 million AU$ for disaster prevention and response, and 2.6 billion AU$  for recovery.  As the Australian example shows, governments have a long way to go from words to action. Governments have not yet realized the role of mitigation, at least not in the budgeting level.

The main theme of this year’s forum was “risk and resilience.”  So the word was used a lot in all of the presentations.  However, the concept of resilience seems to have many meanings and concrete substance behind the word is ambiguous.  Margaret Wahlstrom pointed out that there is a need for a cross-discipline understanding of resilience, as well as for a generic resilience measurement system.   Concrete quantitative indicators would help policymakers to assess the development actions needed, improvement achieved, and provide justification for development actions.

The most vivid discussion concerned the relationship of the national risk management and public involvement. Countries such as the United Kingdom promote full transparency and active risk communications, while some of the governments such as Singapore focus on communicating the vision and improvement ideas instead of risks.  My interpretation of the discussion is that many of the represented government experts perceive risks to be too complicated to communicate to a general audience.  The Nordic countries even go beyond communication, to encourage and support self-organized actions. For example the government supported people when they started to offer shelter and places to sleep for those that got stuck on the road during the October storms of this year, the worst to hit the region in decades.

Read the forum’s summary document draft (PDF)

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Risk-based planning in developing countries—CATSIM training in Cambodia

By Junko Mochizuki, IIASA Risk, Policy, and Vulnerability Program

Catastrophic natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan of 2013 and Thailand’s flood of 2011 have highlighted the need for improved preparedness and proactive planning in developing countries. As population and economic activities continue to grow in hazard-prone areas, the economic costs of natural disasters are expected to rise globally, threatening the prospects for poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

Workshop participants.

Workshop participants learn to use IIASA’s CATSIM tool.

Cambodia is no exception. Frequent natural disasters continue to strain the country’s meager fiscal resources. Flood-related expenditure in particular has increased in recent years. In 2013, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, in charge of major road construction, diverted approximately 20% of its non-maintenance budget for recovery and reconstruction. Ministry of Rural Development, in charge of rural sanitation, health and agricultural projects, faces similar constraints. Some of the costliest disasters have occurred in recent years: the 2013 flood cost $1 billion and the 2011 flood $624 million in damage and losses. The World Bank recently estimated that the annual average expected cost of natural disasters in Cambodia is approximately 0.7% of GDP.

On June 10-11, I participated in an IIASA workshop on this topic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, along with IIASA researcher Keith Williges. Our goal was to train Cambodian policymakers on the concept of disaster risk and need for better fiscal preparedness, using IIASA’s CATSIM model. Like many low-income countries, Cambodia’s ability to access resources through taxation and external loans is limited. Using CATSIM, policymakers can evaluate alternative options for preparedness including hazard mitigation and reserve fund and assess how further accumulation of economic assets may raise risk in the longer term.

In 2011, Cambodia experienced heavy flooding after strong typhoons and heavy rain. Photo credit: Thearat Touch EU/ECHO

In 2011, Cambodia experienced heavy flooding after strong typhoons and heavy rain. Photo credit: Thearat Touch EU/ECHO

Risk-based planning is still uncommon globally and particularly so in developing countries like Cambodia. Year after year, scarce resources are wasted because national and local policymakers do not have access to good risk information such as risk maps and timely weather forecasts. This could change, however, as detailed risk maps are becoming available and a new standard operation procedure for early warning system is now being prepared under this project. The CATSIM workshop has also familiarized policymakers with the concept of economic and fiscal risk of natural disasters.

While policymakers understand the potential costs rising from natural disasters, the real challenge is to link such risk information strategically.  Without concrete advice on how risk maps can prioritize budget allocation, for example, it is unlikely that decision makers will change their old practice of non-risk based planning. In addition to quantifying and communicating economic, social, and environmental benefits of risk reduction and management, further barriers including financial, institutional and cognitive gaps must also be addressed. Bridging science with policy implementation requires strategic linking, and the CATSIM training marked an important first step for improved risk-based planning and co-production of knowledge in Cambodia.

More information:

Systems analysis for risk and resilient development

By Junko Mochizuki, Adriana Keating and Reinhard Mechler, IIASA Risk, Policy, and Vulnerability Program

Flood in Davao City, Philippines, January 20, 2013. Photo credit: Jeff Pioquinto via Flickr

Flood in Davao City, Philippines, January 20, 2013. Photo credit: Jeff Pioquinto via Flickr

The year 2015 will mark a crucial milestone for the international development, climate change, and disaster management communities. Negotiations are currently underway to hammer out three landmark decisions: a much anticipated global climate deal to be agreed at the COP21 meeting in Paris, a new agreement on post-Millenium Development Goals  known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the post-Hyogo disaster risk reduction framework (HFA2) to be adopted at the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai. The outcomes of these three international forums will largely shape the global agendas for the next few decades.

The HFA2 builds on the knowledge and experience gained from 10 years of implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015, the first international initiative to offer a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction. Since its inception, 22 core indicators have been developed to monitor global progress across five priority areas, including building a culture of safety and enhancing national and local institutional architecture. The implementation has thus far shown mixed progress. The key remaining issue is the underlying drivers of risk and that the HF2 must address both the correction of existing risk and prevention of future risk creation.

On 10 and 11 February, the world’s leading experts on disaster risk management gathered at IIASA to begin designing an effective HFA2 monitoring system. At the meeting, co-organized with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), participants deliberated how the HFA2 monitoring system could address the remaining issues of risk creation, mainstreaming, and resilience building, and inform ongoing discussions on SDGs and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The meeting participants emphasized that the notion of resilience to  natural disasters or other unexpected events offers a unique entry point for shared discussions across the development, disaster, and climate change research and policy communities. The resilience notion of “bouncing-forward” stresses that societies must understand the risks they face, and be prepared use both pre- and post-disaster opportunities to implement policies that can reduce risk and advance development objectives. These are important additions to the disaster risk management debate which are essential to the post-2015 approach.

But many challenges remain. We need a concrete set of indicators to measure the multi-dimensional concept of disaster resilience. While we expect to see the adoption of quantitative disaster risk reduction targets—such as mortality, affected population, or economic loss reduction, we do not yet have a globally agreed methodology to measure disaster loss and damage. More fundamentally, an emphasis on loss data could send the world a wrong signal that disaster loss is all that matters. This speaks contrary to IIASA’s ongoing research. What we have found time and time again is that what matters most is a country’s steady management of underlying risk and resilience, whether or not a disaster has occurred.

As negotiations continue towards the climate, development, and disaster goals, it is clear that effective framework must be organized around a holistic understanding of well being and its systemic components. Over the coming months, researchers and analysts including IIASA staff will work with UNISDR to develop a global framework linking the concepts of risk and resilience.

About the authors

Junko Mochizuki and Adriana Keating are research scholars and Reinhard Mechler is the deputy program leader in IIASA’s Risk, Policy, and Vulnerability Program. Their current work at IIASA focuses on advancing the notion of disaster resilience, evaluating how novel and participatory system  analysis tools may be used to inform policy on disaster resilience building.

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.