Sustainable Development is urgent : IPCC’s special report on Climate risks

26 Nov

The Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation ( SREX ) has been submitted as an advance report before a full comprehensive report on effects of Global Warming is published in 2012.

There are many approaches and pathways to a sustainable and resilient future.  However, limits to resilience are faced when thresholds or tipping points associated with social and/or natural systems are exceeded, posing severe challenges to adaptation. This Guidance Note refines the guidance provided to support the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.


This report integrates perspectives from several historically distinct research communities studying climate science, climate impacts, adaptation to climate change, and disaster risk management. Each community brings different viewpoints, vocabularies, approaches, and goals, and all provide important insights into the status of the knowledge base and its gaps. Many of the key assessment findings come from the interfaces among these communities.

The assessment concerns the interaction of climatic, environmental, and human factors that can lead to impacts and disasters, options for managing the risks posed by impacts and disasters, and the important role that non-climatic factors play in determining impacts. The character and severity of impacts from climate extremes depend not only on the extremes themselves but also on exposure and vulnerability. In this report, adverse impacts are considered disasters when they produce widespread damage and cause severe alterations in the normal
functioning of communities or societies. Climate extremes, exposure, and vulnerability are influenced by a wide range of factors, including anthropogenic climate change, natural climate variability, and socioeconomic development.

The report examines how disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change can reduce exposure and vulnerability to weather and climate events and thus reduce disaster risk, as well as increase resilience to the risks that cannot be eliminated.

Other important processes are largely outside the scope of this report, including the influence of development on greenhouse gas emissions and anthropogenic climate change, and the potential for mitigation of anthropogenic climate change.

The following terms have been used  by IPCC to indicate the assessed likelihood:
Term* Likelihood of the outcome –
Virtually certain 99-100% probability; Very likely 90-100% probability;
Likely 66-100% probability; About as likely as not 33 to 66% probability;
Unlikely 0-33% probability; Very unlikely 0-10% probability;
Exceptionally unlikely 0-1% probability
* Additional terms that were used in limited circumstances in the AR4 (extremely likely – 95- 100% probability, more likely than not – >50-100% probability, and extremely unlikely – 0-5% probability) may also be used when appropriate.

1.Exposure and vulnerability are dynamic, varying across temporal and spatial scales, and depend on economic, social, geographic, demographic, cultural, institutional, governance, and environmental factors (high confidence).

2.Settlement patterns, urbanization, and changes in socioeconomic conditions have all influenced observed trends in exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes (high confidence).

1.Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters have increased, but with large spatial and interannual variability (high confidence, based on high agreement, medium evidence).

2.Economic, including insured, disaster losses associated with weather, climate, and geophysical events4 are higher in developed countries. Fatality rates and economic losses expressed as a proportion of GDP are higher in developing countries (high confidence).

3.Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of the long-term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence).

4.Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and
population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement).

There is evidence from observations gathered since 1950 of change in some extremes.

1.There has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights,
and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights, on the global scale, i.e., for most land areas with sufficient data. ( very likely )

2.These changes have also occurred at the continental scale in North America, Europe, and Australia. ( likely )

3.There is a warming trend in daily temperature extremes in much of Asia, Africa and South America. ( medium confidence to low confidence )

4. In many (but not all) regions over the globe with sufficient data, the length or number of warm spells, or heat waves, has increased. ( medium confidence )

5.There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. More of these regions have experienced increases than decreases, although there are strong regional and subregional variations in these trends. ( likely )

6. In any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical
cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities. ( low confidence )

7.There has been a poleward shift in the main Northern and Southern Hemisphere extra-tropical storm tracks ( likely )

8. Some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, e.g., in central North America and northwestern Australia. ( medium confidence )

9. Climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales ( limited to medium evidence; low agreement to low confidence)

10.There has been an increase in extreme coastal high water related to increases in mean sea level. ( likely)

1.Extreme events will have greater impacts on sectors with closer links to climate, such as water, agriculture and food security, forestry, health, and tourism. (high confidence)

2. In many regions, the main drivers for future increases in economic losses due to some climate extremes will be socioeconomic in nature (medium confidence, based on medium agreement, limited evidence).

3.Increases in exposure will result in higher direct economic losses from tropical cyclones. Losses will also depend on future changes in tropical cyclone frequency and intensity (high confidence).

4. Disasters associated with climate extremes influence population mobility and relocation, affecting host and origin communities (medium agreement, medium evidence).


1.The severity of the impacts of climate extremes depends strongly on the level of the exposure and vulnerability to these extremes (high confidence).

2. Trends in exposure and vulnerability are major drivers of changes in disaster risk (high confidence).

3. Development practice, policy, and outcomes are critical to shaping disaster risk, which may be increased by shortcomings in development (high confidence)

4. Data on disasters and disaster risk reduction are lacking at the local level, which can constrain improvements in local vulnerability reduction (high agreement, medium evidence).

5. Inequalities influence local coping and adaptive capacity, and pose disaster risk management and adaptation challenges from the local to national levels (high agreement,robust evidence).

6. Humanitarian relief is often required when disaster risk reduction measures are absent or inadequate (high agreement, robust evidence).

7. Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction provide an opportunity for reducing weather and climate-related disaster risk and for improving adaptive capacity (high agreement, robust evidence).

8. Risk sharing and transfer mechanisms at local, national, regional, and global scales can increase resilience to climate extremes (medium confidence).

9. Attention to the temporal and spatial dynamics of exposure and vulnerability is particularly important given that the design and implementation of adaptation and disaster risk management strategies and policies can reduce risk in the short-term, but may increase exposure and vulnerability over the longer term (high agreement, medium evidence).

10. National systems are at the core of countries’ capacity to meet the challenges of observed and projected trends in exposure, vulnerability, and weather and climate extremes (high agreement, robust evidence).

11. Closer integration of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, along with the incorporation of both into local, subnational, national, and international development policies and practices, could provide benefits at all scales (high agreement, medium evidence).

Future changes in exposure, vulnerability, and climate extremes resulting from natural climate variability, anthropogenic climate change, and socioeconomic development can alter the impacts of climate extremes on natural and human systems and the potential for disasters.

Models project substantial warming in temperature extremes by the end of the 21st century.

It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur in the 21st century on the global scale. It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves, will increase over most land areas.

Heavy rainfalls associated with tropical cyclones are likely to increase with continued warming. Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, although increases may not occur in all ocean basins. It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged.

There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st century in some seasons and areas, due to reduced precipitation and/or increased evaporate-transpiration. Projected precipitation and temperature changes imply possible changes in floods, although overall there is low confidence in projections of changes in fluvial floods.

It is very likely that mean sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme coastal high water levels in the future. There is high confidence that locations currently experiencing adverse impacts such as coastal erosion and inundation will continue to do so in the future due to increasing sea levels, all other contributing factors being equal.

There is high confidence that changes in heat waves, glacial retreat and/or permafrost degradation will affect high mountain phenomena such as slope instabilities, movements of mass, and glacial lake outburst floods. There is also high confidence that changes in heavy precipitation will affect landslides in some regions.

There is low confidence in projections of changes in large-scale patterns of natural climate variability.


1.Measures that provide benefits under current climate and a range of future climate change scenarios, called low-regrets measures, are available starting points for addressing projected trends in exposure, vulnerability, and climate extremes. They have the potential to offer benefits now and lay the foundation for addressing projected changes (high agreement, medium evidence).

2. Effective risk management generally involves a portfolio of actions to reduce and transfer risk and to respond to events and disasters, as opposed to a singular focus on any one action or type of action (high confidence).

3. Multi-hazard risk management approaches provide opportunities to reduce complex and compound hazards (high agreement, robust evidence).

4. Opportunities exist to create synergies in international finance for disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change, but these have not yet been fully realized (high confidence).

5. Stronger efforts at the international level do not necessarily lead to substantive and rapid results at the local level (high confidence).

6. Integration of local knowledge with additional scientific and technical knowledge can improve disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (high agreement, robust evidence).

7. Appropriate and timely risk communication is critical for effective adaptation and disaster risk management (high confidence).

8. An iterative process of monitoring, research, evaluation, learning, and innovation can reduce disaster risk and promote adaptive management in the context of climate extremes (high agreement, robust evidence).


A. Actions that range from incremental steps to transformational changes are essential for reducing risk from climate extremes (high agreement, robust evidence).

B. Social, economic, and environmental sustainability can be enhanced by disaster risk management and adaptation approaches. A prerequisite for sustainability in the context of climate change is addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability, including the structural inequalities that create and sustain poverty and constrain access to resources.  (medium agreement, robust evidence).

C. The most effective adaptation and disaster risk reduction actions are those that offer development benefits in the relatively near term, as well as reductions in vulnerability over the longer-term(high agreement, medium evidence).

D. Progress towards resilient and sustainable development in the context of changing climate extremes can benefit from questioning assumptions and paradigms and stimulating innovation to encourage new patterns of response (medium agreement, robust evidence).

E. The interactions among climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management may have a major influence on resilient and sustainable pathways (high agreement, limited evidence).

It is to be noted that direct comparisons between assessment of uncertainties in findings in this report and those in the IPCC AR4 are difficult if not impossible, because of the application of the revised guidance note on uncertainties, as well as the availability of new information, improved scientific understanding, continued analyses of data and models,and specific differences in methodologies applied in the assessed studies. For some extremes, different aspects have been
assessed and therefore a direct comparison would be inappropriate.

Meaning of Terms used in the report –

Climate Change: A change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcing, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use

Climate Extreme (extreme weather or climate event): The occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below) a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable.

Exposure: The presence of people, livelihoods, environmental services and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets, in places that could be adversely affected.

Vulnerability: The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected.

Disaster: Severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery.

Disaster Risk: The likelihood over a specified time period of severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs
and that may require external support for recovery.

Disaster Risk Management: Processes for designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies, policies, and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction and transfer, and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery practices, with the explicit purpose of increasing human security, well-being,
quality of life, resilience, and sustainable development.

Adaptation: In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate.

Resilience: The ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions.

Transformation: The altering of fundamental attributes of a system (including value systems; regulatory, legislative, or bureaucratic regimes; financial institutions; and technological or biological systems).

Courtesy: IPCC SREX Summary for Policymakers; 18 November 2011.



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One response to “Sustainable Development is urgent : IPCC’s special report on Climate risks

  1. Isaias Odems

    December 18, 2011 at 4:07 AM

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