Newsletter #1 March 2008

Risk reduction should be the focus of the climate debate

spaceThe focus within the climate debate has been on mitigation strategies, in particular on the reduction of CO2emissions. But preparing for the impacts of climate change, such as changing patterns of extreme weather will also be necessary.
 This view is put forward by Laurens Bouwer in a co-authored paper in Science (Confronting Disaster Losses, vol 318(5851): 753). In this paper the authors call on policymakers and scientist to pay more attention to risk reduction.  We know that extreme weather events will be more frequent in the future. In their 4th Assessment Report, the IPCC predicts an increase in extremely hot days, heat waves and heavy precipitation. Decreasing the risks associated with extreme weather will therefore be increasingly important. The costs resulting from extreme weather have increased five-fold over the past 30 years. This rise has been attributed to climate change, but studies show this increase is mainly due to economic and population growth in vulnerable areas. It is expected that without policy adjustments these damages will increase further in future and that the climate signal will become stronger. Large cities in developing countries particularly face increasing risks. They are expected to show large economic growth, making the potential losses ever larger. For instance, Jakarta (Indonesia) faces a potential doubling of economic losses by 2015, and in Bangladesh the number of people potentially affected by flooding will increase by 35% over the same period. To counter these problems we need a better understanding of the economic consequences of extreme weather events. When adapting to climate change and extreme weather, countries should focus on reducing risks of natural disasters.Risk reduction can benefit from existing financial mechanisms like (micro) insurance and social investment funds. Wealthy nations have a responsibility toward developing countries to promote and support these actions.

Laurens Bouwer