Climate change and disaster risk management: developing solutions in a complex world

2016 Resilience Academy – 4 to 10 September 2016 – Report

Around 30 delegates from all over the world came together at the 2016 Resilience Academy to analyse how climate change, disaster management and livelihoods are related to each other in poor countries. The framework was set by a major United Nations vehicle.

The "Loss and Damage" programme of the UN Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC) aims to balance out damage and losses caused by climate change on a global scale over a period of several years. Important results will be presented in November 2016 at the COP 22 climate summit in Marrakesh. British scientist Terry Cannon (IDS, King’s College) opened the week with a provoking quote: "You can't be a rationalist in an irrational world. It isn't rational." Using a simple example of risk management, he demonstrated how wide the gap between risk perception and risk management on the local level often is, in his opinion.

Around 30 delegates from all over the world came together at the 2016 Resilience Academy to analyse how climate change, disaster management and livelihoods are related to each other.

Perception of living situation
How, for example, does an inhabitant of a riverside village in Bangladesh see his own home? "As a fisherman, I live close to my workplace, the river feeds me and delivers water for the vegetable garden. The flat countryside is good for my house and a shed. It also makes it easier for me to get to markets because I can reach other places quickly in my boat", said Cannon, describing this viewpoint. A risk manager weighs up the situation from a completely different perspective: "The site on the riverside is at risk of flooding, and the banks are not properly stabilised, they are threatened by erosion. The house and the small farm are not safe because the flat land offers no barriers against heavy rainfall and flash floods." Development cooperation organisations try to formulate recommendations based on this risk analysis. They classify living spaces as unsuitable and develop warning systems for the hazards involved. Their astonishment knows no bounds when, in the end, a basis for cooperation cannot be found because the stakeholders have all been talking at cross purposes. What is important, therefore, is to make substantial investments in developing risk awareness. Without a sound in-depth analysis of the requirements, and comprehensive dialogue, projects often go wrong. They only succeed if all the stakeholders can change their perspectives and pull together.

Living spaces as perceived by the local population, by risk managers and by development cooperation organisations.

Mitigation and adapting to climate change are not enough
The parties at the international climate conferences have been discussing the question of the options available to the countries worldwide for taking action in the face of climate change for years. The key words are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation aims at limiting the use of fossil resources so that emissions are not released into the atmosphere in the first place. Adaptation is required when changes cannot be avoided anymore. However, a living space can be destroyed by the impacts of climate change to such an extent that it can no longer be used, or even disappears entirely. One cause can be coastal erosion, for example, or thawing permafrost. In such a case, adaptation processes are usually no longer of any use. UNFCCC has founded the "Loss and Damage" programme for this reason. It will document damage and losses that cannot be prevented by avoiding emissions or through adaptation measures. 

One challenge faced by this programme is that by far not all damage can be expressed in terms of money. If a piece of land is lost, the site and the houses built on it can still be ascribed a value, although this is already hard enough in developing countries that do not have a land register. However, trying to put a figure on the losses incurred beyond this is particularly difficult. How can you determine the value of being able to farm, for example, or of psychological illness caused as a result of losing your home or due to weakened social structures? How can the services provided by an intact environment that supports systems, in other words, ecosystem services, be evaluated?

Different perspectives from different regions of the world feed into the workshop programme of our Resilience Academy.

Non-economic loss and damage 
The participants of the Resilience Academy are worried that the unquantifiable damage and losses (non-economic loss and damage) will not be represented adequately in future agreements because of their complexity and difficulty to grasp in concrete terms. This can also lead to gaps in the requisite funding. Which in turn affects those people, in particular, who as a rule have little possibility of adapting to the impacts of climate change because of their poverty. To avoid this problem, the Academy has addressed important issues and developed possible solutions. The resulting publications will explain in detail how fair climate agreements can be formulated (you can find regular updates on the Munich Re Foundation's website). Landmark recommendations will already be presented in policy briefs to the public, and to the politicians on-site, at the upcoming climate summit in Marrakesh in November.

This is where the issue of perspective - addressed by Terry Cannon at the beginning of the academy - comes into play again. How can top-level politicians - for instance at the climate conferences - conceive what losing land really means to a fisherman and his family in Bangladesh? This is where the academy aims to close up knowledge gaps. Knowledge from local projects and research findings will be prepared and processed in such a way that policy makers at the widest variety of levels can experience and understand a change of perspective.

CB, 14 September 2016


Disaster Prevention

> Overview



> Christian Barthelt

> Thomas Loster


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> The Wilson Center