Climate Risk Management – framing the problem, measures, tools, and processes under an uncertain future


Climate Risk Management – framing the problem, measures, tools, and processes under an uncertain future

Stationarity is now invalid for dealing with the continually changing risks we face from climate change and the inherent widening uncertainties over time.

Consequently, a different approach to risk assessments and risk treatment must explicitly include the:

  • increasing rate of change in risk over time;
  • interlinkages and feedbacks within the catchment system including cascading impacts;
  • compounding of coastal and freshwater hazards in coastal lowlands (including groundwater and salinization); and
  • deepening uncertainties stemming from multiple possible coastal-climate futures.

Being explicit about planning and/or design timeframes is now a critical component of risk analysis, when considering adaptation, whether using nominal or policy-driven timeframes (thereby artificially closing off ongoing changes in risk) or taking a realistic view of the permanence of the built environment and land-use decisions. Even short-term or incremental adaptation can lead to path dependency to a particular course of action or maladaptation and increasing residual risk down the track as climate-related risks unfold. Rather than a conventional “predict-then-act” approach, we need to shift to an adaptive pathways paradigm taking a systems viewpoint (ISO 14090: 2019). Starting with a set of scenarios and re-framing risk assessments (ISO 14091: 2021), dynamic adaptive approaches provide a flexible solution and engagement space to explore and devise alternative pathways for fluvial and coastal plains that perform across a range of possible futures, considering the implications and limits of incremental versus transformative (eg, making room for the river, managed retreat, enhanced lowland wetlands) adaptation options.

Presenter: Dr Rob Bell

Rob Bell has 42 years’ experience in coastal and estuary engineering, risk from coastal hazards, the impacts of climate change on coastal lowland communities and infrastructure and adaptive planning for climate adaptation.

Rob, formerly with NIWA, was the Lead Author of the 2017 coastal guidance for local government published by NZ’s Ministry for the Environment for planning adaptation to climate change. He was a Contributing Author for the IPCC Working Group II 6th assessment report on climate change impacts for Australasia (2022). He has been involved in several bridge projects for Waka Kotahi in the estuary/river transition situations, where sea-level rise will be an emerging issue compounding with fluvial flooding. Rob is a certified Resource Management Act Hearings Commissioner and Charter Professional Engineer (Environmental). He is a key advisor for the new NIWA coordinated 5-year MBIE-funded Future Coasts Aotearoa programme. It focuses on rural settings and holistic adaptation pathways and economic evaluation for both built and squeezed natural lowland environments eg, wetlands, marsh and lowland sections of rivers (see recent Policy Quarterly article Vol. 19 No. 1:

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