LONDON (AlertNet) - As the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Sandy suggests, regions in both rich and poor parts of the world urgently need to develop local plans to prepare for climate impacts and reduce their disaster risk, experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say.
To that end, they have developed a method to help regions assess what climate-linked changes may be coming, to help them assess their vulnerability and begin to prepare effectively.
Policy makers should be asking, “Do we need to rebuild for stronger or more frequent Sandys?” asks Adam Schlosser, the lead researcher on the project. “What are the increases and risks we might see over the next few decades?”
The MIT method, titled the Hybrid Frequency Distribution (HFD) Approach, looks at how climate conditions may change in particular regions and combines that information with socioeconomic data - such as population, energy use and household incomes - to analyse risks.
“This model is aimed at people who need to understand what the risks are” in their regions,” said Schlosser. “We’re trying to quantify how likely we think certain climate outcomes (will be in) a given region.”
Results from an initial study suggest climate change will vary substantially around the globe. Northern Siberia and the Amazon are likely to become warmer, and the Himalayas and Hudson Bay area in Canada much warmer, the study suggests. Western Europe and southern Africa will become drier, it also suggests.
Around the world, a warmer climate will raise sea levels which, in turn, makes disasters like Sandy all the more dangerous.
“If you just increase the background sea level, and then you put another storm on top of that, there’s going to be an increased risk just in that sea level rise,” said Schlosser.
Good data and predictions could help governments and city planners decide how to rebuild bridges, buildings, and other infrastructure in the aftermath of a storm, or make decisions on the size and location of new building projects. The expected frequency and estimated strength of future disasters would factor in to the decisions, researchers say.
Emily Wilkinson, a disaster risk reduction expert at the Overseas Development Institute, expressed concern about how receptive governments and policymakers would be to the new data.
For many governments, right now, reducing disaster risk “is very far down the list of priorities,” she said. It also tends to be of more interest to national governments than local ones at the moment, she said.
The MIT effort “suggests policymaking is a rational exercise undertaken by technocrats as opposed to politicians with other priorities,” Wilkinson said. “So there’s a political dimension that’s not really considered.”
Although she had seen models similar to the HFD Approach, Wilkinson said bringing analysis of disaster risk to a local level was a relatively new phenomenon.
“It’s only very recently that scientists have been really able to talk about potential impacts of climate change at a more local level,” she explained. “I think that’s very new.”
Schlosser is confident there will be demand for the model.
“I think that there’s a desire for people, stakeholders and decision-makers, to know what the risks are,” he said.
Jon Christianson is an AlertNet Climate intern.