Brace for extreme weather – report – experts respond

Society needs to act now to build resilience to increasingly common extreme weather such as floods, droughts and heatwaves, says a new report.

ResilienceThe report from the UK Royal Society, ‘Resilience to extreme weather’, outlines the current understanding of the future risk posed by extreme weather events and how policy makers can adapt to and mitigate impacts from these events.

You can read the full report and further information on the UK Royal Society website.

According to the Royal Society: “In 2015, important international agreements will be reached on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change. Our report will help those negotiating and implementing the new agreements to decide what action to take to most effectively build resilience.

The report offers the following reccomendations:

  • Governments have a responsibility to develop and resource resilience strategies
  • Governments should act together at the international level to build resilience; sharing expertise, co-ordinating policy and pooling resources to confront common risks
  • To limit the need for costly disaster responses, more national and international funds will need to be directed to measures that build resilience to extreme weather
  • The purpose, design and implementation of policy frameworks covering climate change, disaster risk reduction and development should be aligned and consistent regarding extreme weather
  • Those who make and implement policies need to take practical measures to protect people and their assets from extreme weather.
  • The risks posed by extreme weather need to be better accounted for in the wider financial system, in order to inform valuations and investment decisions and to incentivise organisations to reduce their exposure
  • Information about extreme weather should be suitable for users’ needs. Funders should encourage collaborations and ongoing dialogue between producers and users of knowledge
  • Research to improve the understanding of risks from current weather and to model accurately future climate change impacts should be increased to provide relevant information for decision-makers, particularly at regional and local levels.

Our colleagues at the UK SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476;

Prof Nigel Arnell, director of the University of Reading’s Walker Institute for Climate System Research, said:

“The Royal Society report provides a great summary of how risks from extreme events have changed in the recent past, and how they might change in the future. We don’t know all the details of how climate change will pan out, but it’s clear that the future will not be like the past. Climate change and increasing population provides a double whammy of increasing risks and vulnerability.

“The report looks at 2090 to provide a snapshot of where the climate is heading. But the latest science shows that even by 2050, around 1 billion more people could be suffering from increased water shortages, most seriously in the Middle East and North Africa – parts of the world which have enough problems with conflict as it is. Around 450 million people – mostly in Asia – are at increased risk of river flooding. However, we also know that projections of future risks are uncertain, so any measures to increase resilience need to take this into account. This is a big challenge.

“This report should act as a call to governments and global businesses prepare to deal with the risks from extreme weather, in the same way they plan to tackle other threats to economic growth and security. Climate change should not be ignored, but needs to be considered in a wider context of changing population, economics and other issues.”

Prof Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said:

“This important report reminds us that the impacts of extreme weather depend enormously on human vulnerability.  Future impacts will largely depend on how many people are in harm’s way and how resilient they are able to be.  Alongside this, changes in climate due to both human and natural causes mean that past experience is not a reliable guide to what kind of extremes can be expected in any particular place.

“In the short term, a lot can be done by helping people become less vulnerable.  Further ahead, improved ability for early warnings – in both science and communication – will also help reduce the impacts of extreme weather.”

Dr Chris Huntingford of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said:

“One criticism often levelled at climate researchers is that whatever climatic changes are expected, somehow it is always presented as bad news. Hence if we can expect more intense extreme rainfall in one region, then this will be noted as raised flood risk, whilst less rainfall elsewhere implies higher drought risk.

“Maybe the point to be made is that since pre-industrial times, society has developed intricate systems to ensure wealth, safety, food and water security for many, through the beneficial use of fossil fuels. However these advanced systems may become vulnerable to disruption if rare but high impact weather events become more frequent, irrespective of their particular type or form. Finding the bounds to resilience is a high priority for research, including relating to different thresholds in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Prof Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“Following widely-reported projections of global mean temperature rise this report spells out very clearly the potential impact of climate change on the lives of real people across the globe.  While it is impossible to predict the occurrence of a particular extreme weather event in a given place it is clear that the risk of occurrence of such events is increasing, and the potential impacts disastrous.”

Prof Andrew Watkinson, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said:

“This timely report reminds us that extreme weather events affect us all, that we are not as resilient to current extreme events as we could be and that the nature of extreme events is likely to change in the future. It also highlights the range of actions we can take to increase our resilience in a changing world and the key roles that governments together with their agencies and the insurance industry must play.

“At a time when deep cuts are being made in public spending it is essential that government does not lose sight of its key role in enabling resilience at both the international and national level.”

Dr Stephan Harrison, Associate Professor of Quaternary Science at the University of Exeter, said:

“Even in developed nations the last few years of unusual snowfalls, extreme heatwaves and floods have shown us that society is not able to deal with the extremes of weather we are experiencing at present.

“Our vulnerability to the likely climate changes we will see over the century will therefore grow and the developing world will be particularly at risk.  Financial organisations will play a crucial role in creating the economic systems which will allow us to adapt, and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

“However, the financial implications of climate change for global business have hardly been assessed and getting companies to take this more seriously is a useful first step towards developing climate change resilience.”

Dr Grant Allen, Atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester, said:

“The science here is easy to understand. As temperatures climb, there will be more energy and more water vapour in the atmosphere. Although this affects different regions of the planet differently, one thing is for sure – what once was an extreme weather event will become more normal. It is essentially a widening of the weather spectrum: more frequent floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes.”