Building capacity for risk management in a changing climate

Submitted by Sam Woor | published 21st Nov 2018 | last updated 13th Mar 2020
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Building capacity for risk management in a changing climate

© Frederic Courbet. 


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.

Overview of key findings

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.

Understanding and applying extreme event attribution results

  • Communicating the case when climate change has not played a role in the occurrence and severity of an extreme event (i.e., none or only a very weak anthropogenic climate change signal detected) is equally as important as communicating an event in which anthropogenic climate change has played a role (i.e., climate signal detected).
    • Firstly, it suggests that other vulnerability and exposure factors may have contributed to the scale and nature of the impacts felt.
    • Secondly, communicating when a climate change signal has not been detected (as well as when it has) demonstrates integrity and builds the credibility of the scientific community and its attribution analyses.

How to communicate extreme event attribution effectively

  • 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’. 
  • 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.
    • Similarly, icons can be useful for a quick pictorial image on television or web pages.

Building extreme event attribution capacity

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 RRA project sought to improve understanding of whether and how climate change is affecting the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Kenya. The aim was to inform efforts to manage future climate risk. The project focused on delivering the following outcomes:

  • assessing whether climate change played a role in the likelihood and strength of specific extreme events in Ethiopia, India and Kenya, 
  • understanding the risk of coastal flooding in Bangladesh as a result of human- induced climate change to inform disaster risk management and resilience efforts; 
  • building the scientific capacity of individuals and institutions to undertake, interpret and use extreme event attribution analysis; 
  • raising awareness of extreme event attribution and the changing nature of climate risk with a range of stakeholders, including communicators and policy-makers; 
  • understanding how to communicate extreme event attribution and climate risk effectively among different stakeholders; 
  • identifying how extreme event attribution analysis can be used and by whom to inform the design and delivery of policies designed to build resilience to future climate risks.