Climate Change, Disasters and Adaptation Preparedness

Climate Change as a Human Factor

Climate change is defined as change in global or regional climate patterns, which may include increases and decreases in temperature as well as changes in severe weather events. These changes in severe weather may increase both the frequency and intensity of disasters and the likelihood of mega disasters. Climate change will likely affect most severely individuals that are already more vulnerable such as older persons and children, those that are socially isolated, people with various health conditions, and those of lower socioeconomic status.

FIGURE 1: Increasing Human Risk to Climate Change
FIGURE 1: Increasing Human Risk to Climate Change

With an increase in population, comes an increase in amount of people during a crisis, including vulnerable individuals. And with the potential for more frequent and/or severe disasters, their risk for future exposure will ultimately increase (Figure 1). It‘s very challenging to tackle such vulnerabilities, as they’re often multi-hazardous, coupled by ecological, geopolitical, demographic and ethic standpoints.

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) is incorporating assessments of climate-specific impacts and vulnerabilities in its work on planning for, responding to, and recovering from disasters, connecting research, policy, and practice (Figure 2). Assessing climate change impacts on populations and climate adaptation strategies provides NCDP the opportunity to carry out research that’s directly related to policy and practice. We approach this work from a disaster research paradigm, utilizing environmental epidemiology methods as well as climate information and projections to characterize health impacts and applying the preparedness, response and recovery principles to various case studies and scenarios.

FIGURE 2: Climate Change, Health, and Disaster Preparedness. Copyright Elisaveta Petkova.
FIGURE 2: Climate Change, Health, and Disaster Preparedness (click to enlarge). Copyright Elisaveta Petkova.

Raising Awareness

In October 2015, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) hosted a seminar at Columbia University titled: Growing Up in an Era of Extreme Events, to explore what we’ve learned from crisis such as Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy. This seminar focused on how to understand and improve our nation’s capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

This growing recognition to link climate change and disaster preparedness is through climate adaptation—where we plan for big scale emergencies through planning prevention interventions. This is why the center believes that practical knowledge on a local level, will serve as an optimal community engagement effort in resiliency. Learning about the current risks of human vulnerability, such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis—NCDP for the next decade will prioritize efforts in preventing, preparing, and responding.

  • Prevention – identifying the threat
  • Planning – as a form to reduce exposure
  • Responding – applying lessons learned from past events to significantly improve recovery

The seminar successfully addressed the following issues:

         Key Points of Seminar Impressions
Climate Change is a presents major population impacts as a result of a combination of natural cycles and human drivers- with population increase, more people are going into harm’s way.  The global refugee crisis is climate change related, therefore, many of the 40-50 million displaced Syrian migrants will seek urban demographic for work.
Temperature is a direct factor in drought, wildfire, and sea level in coastal flooding. Climate Change’s influence on extreme events is a mix of relatively certain and uncertain factors.  Extreme events such as floods and droughts have existed since Mayan civilization—the change is the increase in frequency of and intensity of each event. Intense storms may increase, which will pose a threat to airport shut-downs, delays, and detours.
Heat is the simplest and most predictable aspect of climate change. New York had 3 heat waves in 2015, all with temperature at 90°F or above.Expected Heat Events

Year Over 90 °F days
1971-2000 18
2020 26-31
2050 39-52

*NYC Panel on Climate Change 2013


Shocks have highly unequal social-economic impacts. Compared to low-income populations, more affluent households have far more resources to prepare for and respond to disasters and migrate from danger
Current challenges that impair progress: lack of financial structure in place at a federal or, international Level. A cost-effective preparedness approach is needed to reduce exposure. Developing a capacity to inform climate adaptation strategies at the local, national, and international levels are essential.

The Road Ahead

In December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, global climate deal at the Paris climate conference (COP 21).  According to the global action plan adopted by the governments, the world must take the necessary steps to minimize climate change and its impacts by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. Governments agreed on the importance of adaptation actions and in particular on the urgent need to strengthen societies’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change. There has never been a more critical time to work towards improving adaptation to climate-sensitive disasters by applying lessons learned from past events to the way we prepare, respond, and recover from future disasters.

More Perspectives

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