Climate change

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Climate change can increase disaster risk in a variety of ways - by altering the frequency and intensity of hazard events, affecting vulnerability to hazards, and changing exposure patterns.

Disaster risk is magnified by climate change; it can increase the hazard while at the same time decreasing the resilience of households and communities.

Climate change refers to a change in the climate that persists for decades or longer, arising from either natural causes or human activity (adapted from IPCC, 2007 in UNISDR, 2009). Climate change is already modifying the frequency and intensity of many weather-related hazards (IPCC, 2014) as well as steadily increasing the vulnerability and eroding the resilience of exposed populations that depend arable land, access to water, and stable mean temperatures and rainfall (UNISDR, 2015a). Risk to weather-related hazards is concentrated in low and middle-income countries (UNISDR, 2009). Although the precise impact of climate change is not certain, and it is important to be aware that not all areas will be impacted in the same way, projected impacts of climate change that will drive disaster risk include (UNISDR, 2009b):

  • Decreasing agricultural yields in warmer environments due to heat stress, which has major implications for the livelihoods of the rural poor, and can also lead to migration to urban areas, which increases the population exposed to natural hazards in such locations (UNISDR, 2015).
  • Rising sea levels, which will increase hazards in low-lying coastal areas - the population of coastal areas has grown faster than the overall increase in global population (UNISDR, 2009).
  • More severe and frequent extreme precipitation events, which will intensify existing patterns of extensive risk when combined with the increases in the population and assets exposed due to migration from rural areas.
  • Changes in the geographic distribution of weather-related hazards, which may lead to new patterns of risk.
  • Decreasing resilience, which is likely to disproportionately affect poorer countries and communities meaning that climate change is also a driver of poverty.


Impacts of sea level rise in urban areas in Africa: the case of Lagos

Repeatedly facing grave disasters © Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung CC BY-SA 2.0


The inadequate drainage network, sewers, and wastewater management systems in Lagos, Nigeria, are likely to only worsen as climate change increases sea level rise in urban areas.


Risk associated with weather-related hazards is disproportionately concentrated in developing countries and within these countries in poorer sectors of the population (UNISDR, 2009b). Poverty and constrained access to productive assets mean that rural livelihoods that depend on agriculture and other natural resources are vulnerable to even slight variations in weather and seasonality (UNISDR, 2009b).

The impact of climate change in rural and urban areas in is intimately linked. As the sustainability of rural livelihoods declines and disaster risk increases, it is possible that increased rural to urban migration may occur. Related to climate change, in rural areas more frequent and extreme droughts, as well as changes in mean temperature and precipitation levels will cause further stress to these already vulnerable livelihoods (UNISDR, 2009b).


Climate change forced migration from urbanized areas: the future for India

Washing laundry in the Ganges at sunset. © mIss_mIllIons CC BY 2.0


Climate change is likely to increase natural hazards in densely populated regions of India, forcing migration from urbanized centres, to locations unprepared to receive new migrants.



Development continues in Miami despite future sea level rise inundation

Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant threatened by sea level rise © UNISDR, 2015

United States of America

Despite the sea level rise inundation, and current and future severe storm surges, development continues unabated in Miami's coastal area.


Opportunities for building resilience

It is not inevitable that climate change leads to increasing disaster risk (UNISDR, 2009b).

It is important to differentiate between climate change and the disaster risks associated with climate change (UNISDR, 2009b). However, as with all the underlying risk drivers, because climate change is so closely linked to a number of other risk drivers, it must be addressed in combination with reducing these other drivers of risk (UNISDR, 2009b). If these drivers are not addressed, disaster risk will continue to increase even if climate change is successfully mitigated (UNISDR, 2009b).

Addressing the underlying risk drivers is key to both disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (UNISDR, 2009b).

Patterns of risk that may be driven by climate change are also related to factors such as the growth of informal settlements in exposed areas, lack of investment in drainage infrastructure, and deficiencies in urban and local governance (2009b). By addressing these, we can build resilience to climate change (2009b).

Climate change has emerged as a sector in itself at the national, regional and international levels, with its own institutional arrangements, global framework, and funding mechanisms (UNISDR, 2015a). Since the formulation of the Nairobi Work Programme at the Conference of the Parties in 2006, a plethora of strategies, frameworks and funding mechanisms has certainly created the impression of convergence and coherence of climate change agendas with those of disaster risk reduction and sustainable development (UNEP, 2014 in UNISDR, 2015a).

Several countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and others in the Pacific region, have managed to take the opportunity to effectively merge regulation and technical guidelines as well as national policy frameworks and budgets for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. However, those countries remain the minority, and most national policies, despite citing the respective other domain, maintain distinct boundaries in concepts, plans, methodologies, reporting lines, responsibilities, budgets, and other areas (SEI, 2014 in UNISDR, 2015a).


Merging DRR and climate change adaptation in Viet Nam

Agricultural research helps farmers in Vietnam grow more rice and counteract the impacts of climate change on food security. © Philippe Berry, IFPRI, USAID U.S. Agency for International Development, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Viet Nam

Viet Nam has increased collaboration between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation agencies in recent years.

SOURCE: SEI, 2014; MARC, 2014


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