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Assessment of Risks, Preparedness and Mitigation

George Pararas-Carayannis

Plenary Lecture - 30th Pacem in Maribus (PEACE IN THE OCEANS).
A Year after Johannesburg. Ocean Governance and Sustainable Development:
Ocean and Coasts - a Glimpse into the Future

Kiev, Ukraine, October 26-30, 2003

(©) Copyright 2003 George Pararas-Carayannis




PacemInMaribusThe effect of global warming on weather patterns may be also responsible for an apparent increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters. Weather-related disasters are impacting upon mankind with relentless frequency and intensity and have taken a heavy toll in recent years. Similarly, man-made disasters caused by chemical spills, civil strife and wars, not only constitute a clear and ever present danger for mankind, but may also have cumulative long-term effects on climate. While all areas of the world are affected by climate change and natural, weather-related or man-made disasters, it is the lesser-developed countries, which experience losses in human lives and economy disproportionate to their resources. Often, such major natural and man-made disasters result in complex humanitarian emergencies that seriously compromise the socioeconomic development in affected nations and regions of the globe, creating escalating demands on rapidly diminishing international resources.

A cautionary governance approach must be taken to properly assess problems and risks caused by climate change and by natural, weather-related and man-made disasters. To mitigate effectively adverse impacts, international response action plans must be drawn, advocated and put into effect. There must be adherence to the international treaties on the emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and to the possible increases in the frequency and intensities of weather-related disasters. To ensure the protection of human life and property along the world's overdeveloped coastal areas, it will also be necessary to evaluate the short and long-term risks of potential disasters. International cooperation for disaster mitigation awareness, education and preparedness, such as that promoted by the International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) in the 1990's, must continue with emphasis on the adverse impact of climate change and weather-related disasters.

PIM 2003 is presented with the challenge of evaluating the progress that has been made on monitoring climate change and on natural disaster risk assessment, preparedness and mitigation. PIM 2003 can play an important role on future international efforts, by identifying remaining needs and - through the drafting of a Resolution - make appropriate recommendations to national and international organizations for implementation of additional measures that will improve education, preparedness and action plans to mitigate adverse impacts of climatic change and of natural and man-made disasters.



Climate changes, global warming and a rising sea level appear to have serious adverse impacts on human and animal life on our planet and are the cause of great concern. The effect of global warming on weather patterns is frequently blamed for an apparent increase in weather-related disasters such as windstorms and hurricanes, among others. Climate changes result from both natural and anthropogenic factors. Stressors caused by such factors can affect marine resources in unpredictable ways. The effects can be additive, synergistic or antagonistic. More frequently they are harmful. Although little can be done to mitigate the adverse effects of natural climate change factors, much can be done to control the additional stress caused by anthropogenic contributions.

To account for long-term effects and to ensure healthy and productive ocean and land environments, it is important to properly account for the impact of climate change and to determine the causes. The following is a brief analysis of both natural and anthropogenic drivers contributing to climate change such as global warming and the associated sea level rise. Also provided is a brief overview of necessary actions that must be taken to protect and properly manage the resources of our planet and to asses and mitigate the effects of climate-related disasters.



The sun is the primary source of energy that affects climate. During long periods of geologic time, the Earth's climate has been an unstable dynamic system that has undergone short and long term cycles of change - heating up or cooling down - with corresponding rises and falls in sea level. Important natural drivers of climatic change include both astronomical and terrestrial factors.

Short-term changes of climate caused by orbital forcing variations of the Earth's eccentricity, tilt or obliquity (The Milankovitch processes).

Astronomical factors include the geometry and orbital variability of our solar system, solar storms and flares, sunspot cycles, solar winds, incoming solar luminosity, incoming ultraviolet radiation, eccentricity of the earth's orbit and cycles of tilt or obliquity of the axis of rotation, such as orbital forcing, progressive shift, or precession (wobbling) - the so-called Milankovitch processes. These processes control the amount of sun's radiation reaching specific latitudinal zones on Earth. The orbital variations account for about 10% in the total amount of solar energy reaching any particular latitude. These effects go in and out of phase on cycles, which have approximate periods of 20,000, 40,000 and 100,000 years and are associated with extensive periods of glaciation and global, warming.

The Earth's climate is also affected by geological short-term changes, some of which may last for periods of tens to a few hundreds of thousands of years. Natural terrestrial climate drivers include the global geometry of continent/ocean distribution, ocean tide cycles, periodic ocean circulation changes such as El Nino, weathering of rocks and the input of volcanoes (volcanic aerosols). Seasonal variations affect the energy of heat transfer from the equator to the poles, which controls the strength of ocean and wind currents, rainfall, etc. Variations in the total amount of energy affect the overall climate of Earth.

Variations in the total amount of energy which affect the Earth's overall climate. Seasonal variations result from the energy of heat transfer from the equator to the poles. The air circulation cells that develop from the heat transfer (1=Hadley, 2=Ferrell, 3=polar) control the strength of ocean and wind currents, rainfall, storms etc. (After Imbrie, J., and Imbrie, K. P., 1979, Ice ages: solving the mystery: New York, McMillan Press)



There is new evidence indicating that anthropogenic sources contribute significantly to climate change and accelerate the on-going process of natural global warming. Extensive deforestation of large surface areas of the earth has resulted in significant changes in the water and radiation balance of the planet. Other adverse anthropogenic impacts on climate include land-originating pollution due to urbanization and industrialization and increases in the use of fossil fuels - the latter releasing gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and methane, among others. Chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs) are believed to contribute significantly to the warming process.


Ice cover on the Alps

The need to evaluate the effects of human activities on climate has been addressed. It led to the formation of international organizations such as the U. N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to international agreements as the Kyoto Protocol and the Berlin Mandate. According to the UN-sponsored evaluation, there is strong evidence that the increased concentrations of anthropogenically-generated gases in the atmosphere are suspected to be the human activity drivers that accelerate the natural trend of global warming and contribute to an accelerated climatic change. The UN report clearly states that global warming is a real problem, which is getting progressively worse. To what extent these gases contribute to the Greenhouse Effect and to climate change is not yet adequately known. Therefore, it must be first determined whether the apparent climate change and global warming result from natural or anthropogenic factors. Failure to account for the causes will compromise management efforts to reduce the adverse impact of future climate change. Although there is not yet sufficient information about the natural climate change, nevertheless the new estimates of warming pose a risk of devastating consequences in the near future for our planet.



The Green House Effect

The earth's atmosphere was created by volcanic emissions of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases during the Precambrian and this process continues. The earth's atmosphere is mainly composed of nitrogen, oxygen and argon (99.9%). Trace gases in it include mostly water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane. The atmosphere has a blanketing effect on the solar energy that reaches the earth, keeping its surface temperature warmer by about 30 degrees Celsius. The trace gases absorb the thermal radiation emitted by the earth and return it back to the surface, thus reducing significantly the loss of heat. This on-going natural process is known as the Greenhouse Effect.

Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

Since climate change on Earth is a dynamic process affected by both terrestrial and extraterrestrial factors, the impact of the Greenhouse Effect has also varied during long periods of geologic time, with corresponding heating up or cooling down periods and rises and falls in sea level. There has been an overall trend of global warming as the Earth is currently still coming out of the last glaciation. During the 15,000 years of the Pleistocene Period, the geoclimatic record indicates that - with the exception of a few short cooling cycles - there has been an overall pattern of global warming that has affected both the earth's climate and sea level.

Present Arctic ice shelves and Greenland ice sheet

The geoclimatic record of the last 400 years indicates a natural trend of increasing global temperatures and of a rising sea level. For the last 100 years, global temperatures have been monitored reliably with the absolute rise being less than 1 degree Celsius during that period. Following WWII, there was a short cooling period that lasted about 30 years. However, the trend reversed in the mid 1970's and global warming resumed. Finally, in the last twenty years, the rate of global warming increased even more noticeably, with a rise in sea level and pronounced effects on climate. For example, new measurements show that the flow of ice in the Greenland ice sheet has been accelerating since 1996 during the summer melt season.

An increase in the anthropogenic input of greenhouse gases has been suspected to contribute to the accelerated global temperature increase, to the associated sea level rise, and to the higher frequency and intensity of weather related disasters. Climate modeling studies generally estimate that global temperatures will rise in the next century. Various models predict the temperature of the planet to increase between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius in the next sixty years. Such a warming is likely to raise sea level by expanding ocean water and melting glaciers and portions of the Ross and other Antarctic ice shelves and of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Zonation of the vegetation belts in the Columbian Andes of South America presently and during the climatic minimum of the last continental glaciation of the northern hemisphere - when each of the zones was about 1,200 m lower (After Perlmutter, M. A., and Matthews, M. D., 1990, Global cyclostratigraphy-a model, in Cross, T. A., ed., Quantitative dynamic stratigraphy: Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, p. 233-260.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the global mean sea level has risen 10-25 cm. over the last 100 years but that the average rise during the present century is significantly higher than the rate averages over the last several thousand years.

The IPCC projections for sea level rise give a best estimate of total sea level rise of 49 cm. with a possible range of 20 cm. to 86 cm. for the 21st century, but notes that the projections have a great deal of uncertainty.

The projected sea level rise is extremely alarming because of the effect it will have on low-lying regions of the world. If the worst-case IPCC modeling scenario is realized, major coastal cities around the world could be substantially inundated. Other low-lying areas of the world would be threatened.

For example, the cyclone-vulnerable delta region of the Ganges River in Bangladesh could be devastated like never before with terrible consequences for millions. Similarly, island states such as the Maldives, the Marshalls, Tuvalu and Kiribati would be threatened with complete submergence from this rise in sea level. A rise in sea level of 5 m would be a disaster of global proportions, as it would drown numerous coastal mega cities such as Amsterdam, New York, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, London, Nice, Venice, Naples, Cape Town, Durban, Bombay, Shanghai, Bangkok, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore.



Additionally, global warming appears to affect significantly the weather patterns of our planet. The extent of this influence cannot be accurately determined. In recent decades, there has been an apparent increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and storms and in the losses of life and property due to weather-related disasters. Other man-made or natural disasters have also taken a greater toll in recent years. However, it is not known with certainty if the higher losses can be attributed to a higher frequency of such disasters or simply to excessive development and increased population density along vulnerable coastal areas of our planet. Certainly, there have been major demographic shifts and greater concentration of populations in urban areas around the world. Mega cities have emerged along coastal areas, often without adequate planning or assessment of disaster risks. Also, better coverage of the impact of disasters by global media networks has resulted in increased awareness of disaster impacts. Nevertheless, it is worth reviewing the possible effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of disasters, particularly those that are weather-related.



In spite of mitigation efforts, losses due to global warming and weather related disasters will continue to increase because of continuing population growth and the increase of the concentration of growth in vulnerable areas such as coastal regions and flood plains. Other natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis have also resulted in increased losses - quite possibly for the same reasons. For example the percentage of earthquakes causing 1,000 + fatalities has increased by 10% causing approximately 1.4 million deaths since 1910.

Hurricane Floyd, 1999 U.S. NASA Photograph

Continuing global warming can be expected to contribute significantly to disasters. For example, a new study has concluded that the Southwest Asian monsoons have gotten stronger over the past 400 years and might continue to intensify as a result of global warming. In recent years, weather-related disasters such as heavy rains, floods and flash floods, have affected the lives of thousands in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Turkey, Costa Rica, Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Somalia, Ghana, Morocco, Togo and South Africa. Hurricanes and typhoons in the Eastern United States, Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Philippines, Vietnam, Madagascar and elsewhere have left thousands of people dead, injured or homeless. Major flooding, - even in mountain areas high in the Himalayas - could occur where nearly 50 glacial lakes could burst their banks and flood the valleys below.

Man-made disasters have also taken a heavier toll in recent years. The continuous population growth has disturbed the delicate balance between ecosystems on our planet. Pollution of the atmosphere and of the seas, destruction of the rain forests, fires burning out of control, alterations of sensitive ecosystems, destruction of the ozone layer, have created climatic changes that we do not fully comprehend. Similarly, man-made disasters such as chemical spills and industrial accidents have polluted rivers and watersheds in Rwanda, Guyana, Eastern Ukraine, Slovenia and elsewhere. Industrial wastes have heavily polluted the drinking water supply of more than two million people endangering their health. Other man-made disasters associated with industrial accidents, civil strife, wars, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, not only present the greatest danger for humanity, but may also have a long-term cumulative effect on the earth's climate. The trend is clear, weather related and complex man-made disasters are increasing in frequency and severity in various parts of the world. Their impact on the environment and on climate cannot be overlooked.



Assessment of Natural and Anthropogenic Influences on Climate Change

A cautionary governance approach must be taken to properly assess problems caused by global and local climate changes, which may result from natural and anthropogenic influences. Such approach must be based on a better understanding and management of land, coastal and marine ecosystems and of all the environmental factors that influence them. Responsible development, prevention of industrial accidents, control of pollution and reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases are necessary. Healthy land and marine ecosystems are also more resilient to all long and short-term perturbations, including climate-induced changes.

To mitigate effectively the adverse impact of climate change on the marine and terrestrial environments from the anthropogenic stressors, better climate modeling studies will be needed to monitor the atmospheric composition, the carbon and water cycles, and the agreed upon reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Such monitoring and modeling will also lead to better understanding and planning for land use and land cover interactions on our planet. Finally, to mitigate effectively the adverse impact of climate change and to ensure adherence to international treaties, response action plans must be drawn, advocated and put into effect at local, regional and global levels.

Disaster Risk Assessment and Preparedness

Climatic processes - such as the projected global warming - can be expected to have a pronounced effect on the evaporation rates and on the distribution of water vapor and clouds in the atmosphere and of ice at the polar caps. Unless mitigated, the anthropogenically-generated greenhouse gas emissions can be expected to accelerate the natural global warming process and ­ as previously stated - potentially increase the frequency and intensity of weather related disasters. The safety and security of human settlements around the world - but particularly along coastal areas - will continue to be threatened by natural, man-made and weather-related disasters. Although great progress in disaster mitigation has been achieved as a result of international efforts, there is still a need for better disaster awareness, education and preparedness for many vulnerable regions of the world.

To ensure the protection of human life and property along the world's overdeveloped urban areas, it will be necessary to evaluate the vulnerabilities of climate change and the short and long-term risks of potential disasters. The disaster risk potential of a vulnerable area is of great interest to governmental, non-governmental agencies and to the public in general. The interest of the insurance industry must also be directed toward this assessment of risk potential. The designing of important critical structures should incorporate adequate safety features to mitigate disaster impact. The risk from disasters must be properly assessed before any important construction is undertaken. Proper assessment of a particular disaster risk requires a detail historical analysis of past events, estimates of recurrence frequencies, numerical hazard modeling, zonation of the potential hazard and, finally, preparedness and planning for mitigation, public safety, protection of property, for effective warning procedures, and for effective warning dissemination.

Hurricane Olga near Bermuda on November 28, 2001 (SeaWiFS image)

Adherence to International Treaties

Regardless of remaining uncertainties of the anthropogenic impact on climate, the international scientific community must continue to insist on reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases that appear to contribute significantly to climate change, sea level rise, and to the possible increases in the frequency and intensities of weather-related disasters. If the high global rate of greenhouse gas emissions continues unchanged, it has been projected that sea level is likely to raise by as much as 6.2 mm/yr by 2100. However, if the emissions could be stabilized by the year 2025, the rate in sea level rise would be cut in half to approximately 3.2 mm/yr. The impact of weather-related disasters could be perhaps mitigated.

International treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol represent a good faith commitment of "developed" nations to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 5% by the year 2012. However, since the Protocol sets parameters that cannot be always properly measured or regulated, it remains to be seen as to what extent the Protocol's signatory and non-signatory parties will honor this moral, voluntary commitment to protect our planet from accelerated climatic changes Therefore, it is important to fulfill the Berlin Mandate requirement to strengthen the commitments of the developed countries of the world. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.



I wish to thank Dr. E. Sarukhanian (WMO) and Dr. E. Voskresenskaya (Oceanological Centre of the NASU) for co-chairng with me PIM's 2003, Section 5. Climate Change - Disaster Preparedness, as well as the scientists who will present interesting papers to this session.

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