A better climate for disaster risk management

Hellmuth, Molly E.; Mason, Simon J.; Vaughan, Catherine; van Aalst, Maarten K.; Choularton, Richard J.

Climate-related disasters are by far the most frequent natural disasters, exacting a heavy toll on people and economies. Their frequency and economic losses have steadily increased over the past few decades, stretching the response capacities of governments and humanitarian organizations. One of the many ways this challenge can be addressed is by making more effective use of the increasing wealth of climate information and tailoring it to the needs of those who could use it, to better predict and prepare for such disasters before they occur.

Written in partnership with a range of humanitarian organizations, A Better Climate for Disaster Risk Management is the third in the Climate and Society Publication series. This issue highlights recent advances in the use of climate information to manage risks and improve livelihoods, such as new partnerships and user-designed information platforms. It draws together and analyzes experiences from 17 case studies that capture the current state of knowledge. It also highlights research innovations in technical boxes throughout the publication. A problem-solving framework is used to demonstrate the challenges and opportunities facing disaster risk managers in using climate science with a three step approach: identifying the problem, developing tools, and taking action, reflected in the chapter titles.

The case studies and experiences presented in this book draw on a wealth of practical experience from within the humanitarian community. They acknowledge the enormous effort and investment by very many national and local governments, international organizations, and an increasing range of other actors in the field of climate information for disaster risk management. This publication adds to the growing body of knowledge, focusing on the experiences of a number of mostly non-governmental actors, especially the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and how through partnerships, they have helped to integrate state of the art climate science and information into improved decision-making.

Exploring the use of climate information for disaster risk management, it identifies both the achievements and the obstacles associated with this endeavour. From them are distilled the lessons learned, and a series of recommendations. Of these, effective partnership is highlighted as the single most critical ingredient for success. Climate information that can be acted upon is best created in dialogue between the users and providers, and partnerships between climate scientists and disaster risk managers should promote knowledge sharing, trust, and the development of innovative solutions.

Efforts to better apply climate information in disaster risk management should first focus on immediate opportunities and potential ‘quick wins’. Practical engagements can be fostered by initially concentrating on countries and regions with relatively good seasonal forecast skills, and where humanitarian decisions can be influenced to provide large and immediate returns on investment. Disaster risk managers must, however, improve their understanding of the potential as well as the limitations of climate information, as the development of realistic expectations is vital to maintaining trust in the information and those who provide it.

Cases demonstrate that when climate information can be integrated into existing decision-making support tools or systems, it becomes an important piece of the information that is considered and taken up in the routine activities of disaster risk managers. The relative contribution that seasonal, decadal, and long-term trends make to current and future climate also needs to be better understood. To achieve the goal of providing relevant climate services to support disaster risk management, climate information providers such as national meteorological services must tailor their information to the problem at hand, either by refining products through iterative interaction with partners or by simplifying the presentation.

Although there have been many achievements and advances, much potential remains to be realized. Herein lies the opportunity: to build trust and improve the sharing of knowledge between the providers of climate services, and those who can use those services to enhance disaster risk management, jointly reducing human suffering and achieving more sustainable development.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University
Published Here
March 18, 2020