Building capacity for risk management in a changing climate

Submitted by Sam Woor | published 21st Nov 2018 | last updated 6th Oct 2020
Building capacity for risk management in a changing climate

© Frederic Courbet. 

Introduction

The Raising Risk Awareness (RRA) project* uses the latest advances in climate science to understand the role of climate change in the occurrence of extreme events such as flooding, droughts and heatwaves in developing countries. Having a better understanding of whether and how climate change might affect the likelihood and severity of extreme events in a particular location is important when managing future climate risk.

The project analyses the role of climate change in recent droughts in Ethiopia and Kenya, and recent flooding and heatwave events in India. In Bangladesh, the project examines the risk of coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise induced by climate change, using the Surging Seas tool. The project also considers how such information is communicated between those who undertake the analyses (scientists), those who disseminate the information (media and communicators) and those who ultimately incorporate this information in decision-making (policy-makers). More detailed information underpinning this summary can be found on the project websites.

*Download the full project report from the right-hand column. 

Country summaries

Ethiopia: the droughts of 2015

RRA outputs:

Droughts have plagued Ethiopia for decades and, during the 1970s and 1980s, several droughts resulted in widespread famine. Ethiopian scientists expressed an interest in understanding the role of climate change in the occurrence of specific extreme weather events, such as droughts, but lacked the capacity to undertake such analyses. In response to this, the RRA team engaged Ethiopian scientists in analysis to assess the contribution of drivers such as climate change and the El Niño Southern Oscillation to the 2015 Ethiopian drought.

India: Extreme precipitation (2015) and heatwave (2016)

RRA outputs (extreme precipitation event):

On 1 December 2015, record 24-hour rainfall led to catastrophic flooding in Chennai. The downpour occurred during the rainy season, coinciding with a strong El Niño, record warm global surface temperatures and high Indian Ocean temperatures.

RRA outputs (heatwave event):

Heatwaves in parts of India are becoming more frequent and more intense, although this is not the case for most of the country. On 19 May 2016, the city of Phalodi in Rajasthan set an all-time record of 51°C. RRA scientists used peer-reviewed methods to estimate whether and to what extent climate change is affecting the risk of record heat like the Phalodi event and a similar one-day heat event in Andhra Pradesh in May 2015.

Kenya: The drought of 2016–2017

RRA outputs:

Kenya is currently experiencing a prolonged drought and, in February 2017, the country’s President declared it to be a national disaster. The RRA team worked closely with scientists from the Kenya Meteorological Department to investigate the role of climate change in the ongoing drought. Through this collaboration, the Kenyan scientists developed their understanding of extreme event attribution. The decision to focus on an ongoing extreme weather event resulted in good engagement from a number of Kenyan stakeholders.

Bangladesh: Flood disaster risk management

The RRA project engaged in the following activities to develop and raise awareness of the Surging Seas tool with stakeholders in Bangladesh:

  • The Surging Seas tool was adapted for Bangladesh, which included translating elements of the tool into Bengali to make it more accessible. 
  • A workshop held in Dhaka brought together a wide range of local stakeholders as well as the team behind the Surging Seas tool, who led the workshop and trained the attendees. 
  • An exposure report complements results from the Surging Seas tool, estimating land and population at risk of inundation under best- and worst-case greenhouse gas emissions scenarios due to sea level rise alone, and sea level rise integrated with chronic flooding, for the years 2050 and 2100.

Key messages (abridged)

Extreme event attribution understanding and capacity varied across the project’s four pilot countries. Through a series of workshops and meetings with key stakeholders from the scientific, communications and policy communities, the RRA team obtained insights into stakeholders’ familiarity with and understanding of extreme event attribution, and identified how the project could develop and build their capacity. While conditions varied in each country, several important overarching achievements and findings emerged through the delivery of the project. These are outlined in brief below:

Why extreme event attribution is important for managing climate risk

  • A lack of robust information on and awareness of how climate change may be affecting the likelihood and magnitude of extreme weather events can lead to poor decision-making.
  • Decisions based on inaccurate climate information can lead to reconstruction of community infrastructure that is not resilient to future extreme weather events.
  • Conversely, those who point to climate change as the cause of an extreme weather event without relying on an objective scientific analysis may overplay the connection.
    • In doing so, they risk undermining the debate on climate change, misguiding investment in reconstruction (i.e. maladaptation) and failing to identify the non-climate factors (e.g. vulnerability and exposure) that may have contributed to the scale and nature of the impact of the event.
  • The policy-making process varies from country to country, and is very context-specific.
    • In Ethiopia, policy-making is highly centralised.
    • In India, individual states have a greater degree of autonomy, and policy design and delivery takes place at the sub-national level.
    • In Kenya, there are two levels of government: national and county. The national government is mandated to formulate climate change policy, while various functions are assigned to the county governments to fulfil actions required to address climate change.
  • It is, therefore, important to tailor extreme event attribution analysis and supporting information to the policy process it is trying to influence. For example, more granular information would be required in India to inform sub-national policy planning.

Understanding and applying extreme event attribution results

  • When relaying whether or not an anthropogenic climate change signal has been detected, it should be made clear that the result applies only to the particular extreme weather event under analysis.
    • This will avoid unfounded generalisations.
  • The RRA project has made an important contribution to the evidence base around extreme event attribution in Ethiopia, India and Kenya, which was limited prior to the project.
  • Documenting methodologies and sharing best practices will improve the foundation of attribution analyses in the future.
    • Defining the extreme weather event is one of the most important and difficult parts of an attribution analysis.
    • Event definition requires decisions to be made about the area and duration, as well as relevant event variables, such as temperature, rainfall etc.
    • These decisions can significantly alter the results. Event definition should be relevant to those who will use the results.

How to communicate extreme event attribution effectively

Practical Action Consulting was commissioned to investigate the most effective methods, phrases and tools to communicate climate change extreme event attribution information, considering comprehension, ease of understanding and willingness to take action by a range of different actors. Some findings from the research included:

  • Preferences differed between and within stakeholder groups (media, public and policy-makers) and between countries with regard to how to effectively communicate the probability, frequency, intensity and uncertainty of extreme event attribution.
  • There was a range of responses from stakeholders relating to their understanding of ‘frequency’.
    • E.g. in India, the statement ‘frequency... twice in a lifetime’ was considered by the public as the easiest to understand. However, understanding ‘frequency’ was generally challenging in India due partly to difficulty in translating this term into Hindi. It is recommended that probability information presented using the term ‘chance’ may be preferable for this stakeholder group.
  • Research found that graphical depictions are a useful presentation tool for web-based displays, and can be accompanied by explanatory information to help users interpret complex information such as uncertainty.

Building extreme event attribution capacity

Prior to the RRA project, most stakeholders in the pilot countries – including scientists, communicators and policy-makers – had little or no understanding of extreme weather attribution analysis.

The RRA project sought to build capacity for extreme event attribution across its pilot countries. Building such capacity is important for a number of reasons:

  • Stakeholders are more likely to engage with and respond to extreme event attribution analyses when they are undertaken and communicated by local and trusted scientific experts and institutions, as opposed to non-native experts.
  • Local scientists and institutions provide important contextual information, expertise and access to data, and add legitimacy to extreme event attribution results.
    • Local climate communicators – those sharing attribution and broader climate information with decision makers – who are already known and trusted by policy-makers also play an important communication role.

Lessons Learnt

The main conclusions of the analyses reported in this synthesis can be summarised as follows:

At the outset, there was limited capacity for extreme event attribution analysis in Ethiopia, India and Kenya.

  • Scientists in these countries have now been introduced to techniques for conducting extreme event attribution; communications experts have been engaged on how to use extreme event attribution information to raise awareness of climate risk; and policy officials have been exposed to the potential use of this information in decision-making.

In Bangladesh, experts in sea level rise, flood and disaster management, and climate scientists and policy officials were engaged to build climate resilience through the Surging Seas tool, which incorporated Bangladesh-specific data.

While the project has taken steps towards achieving its ultimate aim, Ethiopia, India and Kenya are currently not at a stage where extreme event attribution analysis is readily available and integrated into decision-making.

  • Greater in-country extreme event attribution capacity is required for these countries to conduct their own independent analyses.

Additionally, further work is needed to identify and understand the needs of policy-makers and other end-users of extreme event attribution information.

Similarly, access to quality local data is required to improve the accuracy and uptake of the Surging Seas tool in Bangladesh.