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Disaster risk management in a changing climate. Discussion paper prepared for the World Conference on Distaster Reduction on behalf of the Vulnerability and Adaptation Resource Group (VARG)

Publication date:
F. Sperling
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Climate change is a reality, not a distant possibility in the future. Weather-related disasters are exerting an increasing toll on developing and developed countries, destroying lives and livelihoods and hampering development processes. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction is a testimony that international cooperation is needed to prevent natural hazards from translating into disasters. This paper discusses inter-linkages and differences between disaster risk management (DRM) and adaptation to climate change, and outlines opportunities and barriers for collaboration. The authors state that strategic coordination is essential for diminishing the impacts of natural disasters and improving the sustainability of development processes. To promote an integrated approach to DRM, it is necessary to:

identify and appreciate the information, experience and methodologies that disaster risk, climate change and development experts can provide and design a system to share such experience and knowledge
overcome some institutional structural, managerial, information, financial barriers to facilitate the integration of experience, information and knowledge of development, climate change and DRM experts.

The document identifies the following challenges to the coordination of climate change and DRM:

short-term thinking - risks to investments are often not considered for the full life-time of the project, discounting the impacts of climate change. It is important to do a full risk analysis of development projects which addresses natural hazards due to climate change over the life-time of the project
information collection, dissemination and implementation - accounting for climate risks within the development context is hampered by lack of information, its dissemination and implementation of appropriate response structures.
institutional Structures - a comprehensive response to natural hazards and climate change is often constrained by an institutional fragmentation and resulting communication barriers regarding responsibilities concerned with disaster management and climate change adaptation
financing frameworks – the existence of different financing frameworks do not necessarily promote a comprehensive risk management approach that address multiple natural hazards and climate change.

In conclusion, the authors point out the following general ideas to overcome the above challenges.

Adopt a long-term planning horizon with capacity to dynamically adapt to changes in the exposure to climate related hazards with time.
Climate change adaptation and DRM require similar professional expertise that captures the scientific and socioeconomic dimensions of managing hazard risks and environmental change.
Shift to a programmatic approach, allowing for a comprehensive communication of natural hazard and climate risks within the development process.