IPCC to help prepare for short-term climate extremes

In a significant move, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body of climate change experts, is set to produce a "how to" manual for policy-makers and disaster officials on managing the risks of extreme weather events and bolstering resilience, to promote adaptation to global warming.

"Years of lobbying the IPCC have finally paid off," said Maarten van Aalst, leading climate specialist at the Climate Centre of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). 

The IPCC has assessed the long-term impact of climate change. The panel has now acknowledged that measures and policies identified as adaptation in their previous reports had not taken into account the full range of activities that need to be undertaken to reduce the risks of extreme events and disasters.

The special IPCC report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, will provide methods and tools to manage climate risks. It will also provide 25 case studies to show how extreme events and vulnerability interact to result in disasters, with lessons learnt from vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh in Southeast Asia, and others in Southern Africa.

The report is expected to be released in 2011.

Besides integrating adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR), which both "aim to reduce the impacts of shocks by anticipating risks and addressing vulnerabilities", van Aalst told IRIN, the IPCC's special report would help agencies like IFRC, which are trying to draw up plans to help communities prepare for extreme weather events, especially in areas where climate change forecasts are uncertain.

He cited IFRC's experience in West Africa, where various climate change projections have predicted increasingly uncertain rainfall. "As forecasts give only probabilities, not certainties", it leaves IFRC disaster managers like those based in Dakar, Senegal's capital, to make "judgement calls to utilize seasonal forecasts to apportion scarce resources".

Countries attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 recognised the relevance of disaster-risk reduction to advance adaptation.

The IPCC special report is a response to their calls for "enhanced action on risk management and risk reduction strategies, including risk transfer mechanisms such as insurance ... to lessen the impact of disasters on developing countries", said a scoping paper on the forthcoming report by IPCC officials.

of the world's least developed countries and small island states...
view a distinction between adaptation and DRR as "problematic, given
their experience of the increased magnitude and frequency of disasters
impacting their countries

Integrating disaster risk reduction and adaptation

"There is significant overlap between DRR and climate change adaptation. However, these agendas have evolved independently until now," wrote van Aalst in a paper he co-authored with Tom Mitchell, a researcher at the Climate Change and Development Centre of the UK-based Institute of Development Studies.

DRR deals with the short-term changes in climate variables, such as temperature, but "can be the first-line defence against climate change" and become an essential part of adaptation, which has tended to focus on long-term impacts, van Aalst and Mitchell argued in their paper.

It is a point often made by the DRR community as well as some of the world's least developed countries and small island states, which view a distinction between adaptation and DRR as "problematic, given their experience of the increased magnitude and frequency of disasters impacting their countries".

These nations have regularly asked what "portion of disasters can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change [caused by man] compared to existing climatic variability?, said van Aalst and Mitchell.

In the IPCC scoping paper, the panel's officials acknowledged that reducing vulnerability to climatic variables could improve resilience to the increased hazards associated with climate change.