Assessing the risks of climate extremes in an already-stressed world


In a world that is already very stressed, climate disruption becomes a stress multiplier that will affect vulnerable populations and assets in both developed and developing countries, we said in a brief response to a couple of questions from Al Jazeera English TV on the release of the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Special Report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)

Al Jazeera English

From a segment aired on March 28:

Al Jazeera:  First, your reaction to this report – how concerning is it?

RP:  This is a major report. It’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international group of scientists.  The report synthesizes the state of knowledge about climate change and the risk of weather extremes, natural disasters, and it’s aimed at helping to assess and manage the risks that we face.  220 authors from 62 countries.  They find that human-caused climate change is now part of the weather variability that we see.  In some ways, with heat waves and heavy precipitation, this can lead to greater extremes.  We’re already seeing some of this, and it’s projected that we’ll be seeing more of it as the years go on.

Al Jazeera:  Rick, the report also focuses on, as you’re saying, just how to manage the risks of extreme weather and make people more resilient.  So is this any different from reports that we’ve seen in the past that tackle climate change?

RP:  Well, this moves on from establishing the reality of human-caused climate change to looking at impacts and assessing the risks of impacts.  What the science community can do is assess risk and vulnerability.  So they emphasize, for example, the likelihood of more heat waves with global warming, more heavy precipitation – more of the rain that falls will be in the form of heavy rainstorms.  We will likely have more drought because of changes in rainfall patterns and more evaporation of water from the land surface.

All of this plays into a world that is already very stressed.  Everything from very expensive assets along the coastlines of wealthy countries to very exposed and vulnerable populations in developing countries can be affected.  Human-caused climate disruption becomes a stress enhancer, a stress multiplier, that has to be taken into consideration now.

Had I been asked one more question, on policy implications, I would have emphasized that the IPCC report concludes that actions ranging “from incremental steps to transformational change are essential for reducing risk from climate extremes.”  Yet, despite this and many other scientific assessments spanning decades, the US has no national strategy to address climate change – either to slow it by curbing emissions or to prepare for the impacts.  And while the US has no national climate change adaptive preparedness strategy, early-stage efforts by federal agencies to identify and address the growing risks have been threatened by budget cuts and other means.

See also:

Climate Progress:  How Global Warming Sharply Increases The Likelihood Of ‘Outlandish’ Heat Waves

World Wildlife Fund Climate Blog:  International Panel Highlights “Climate Resilient Cities,” as Communities Mobilize for Changing Weather Patterns

Earlier posts:

IPCC says essential actions needed to reduce risks of changing climate extremes (on the earlier release of the IPCC Special Report’s Summary for Policymakers)

Questions from Al Jazeera on US climate and environmental policy in an election year

On Al Jazeera English:

Hillary Clinton: Al Jazeera offers “real news” – U.S. media not keeping up

Al Jazeera English to be honored with Columbia Journalism Award

Al-Jazeera English wins Royal Television Society news channel of the year


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