There’s nothing worse than having to go to summer school on a rainy, miserable Monday. Unless, of course, you’re a climate expert trying to boost your expertise on how to minimize the risks of climate and climate change.
For the climatology crowd gathered at the Université du Québec à Montréal on Monday, the soggy weather here was negligible; they are far more concerned with hydro-meteorological hazards such as floods, cyclones and drought, and their impact on world economics and health.
The 50 meteorologists, scientists, academics and students who gathered at UQAM for the start of a five-day “summer school” brainstorming session are focused on what has become one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: weather risk management and reducing the impact of extreme weather conditions.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in March that the 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction shows that economic losses stemming from disasters are now costing as much as $300 billion annually.
“We are playing with fire,” he said in a statement. “There is a very real possibility that disaster risk, fuelled by climate change, will reach a tipping point beyond which the effort and resources necessary to reduce it will exceed the capacity of future generations.”
Although the 187 UN member nations adopted a new framework for disaster risk reduction in Japan later in March, the UQAM conference aims to bring together stakeholders and create more efficient decision-making surrounding high-impact weather events, said Jennifer Milton of the meteorological service for Environment Canada, which collaborated on the event with UQAM.
“In the coming decades, the loss of life associated with the increase in natural disasters will be second only to civil war,” said Philippe Gachon, a professor of hydro-climatology in the department of geography at UQAM who gave the opening address at Monday’s conference. “This is a very important international issue. Substantial action must be taken by the international community to reduce the risks caused by climate change.”
Better preparation a necessity
Climate change, Gachon said, has increased the risk of extreme weather and necessitates better preparation through warning systems, protocols and communications.
One of the unique missions of the first-time conference is to address the communication issues associated with high-impact weather such as meteorological warning systems, intervention in crisis situations, the challenges of risk communication and communications planning.
A good warning system that gives people even 20 minutes notice about a hailstorm could help reduce damages because it gives them time to put their cars in garages, said Bernard Motulsky, who holds a research chair in public relations and communications at UQAM.
The day is coming, he said, when cell phones and social media will allow meteorologists to pinpoint who is in harm’s way before the arrival of extreme weather and permit them to send direct warnings.
However, until that day, there are still hurdles to overcome. For example, Quebec’s public security department has been experimenting with emitting disaster alerts through television networks and radio stations.
A recent test simulation of the system done by the Centre des opérations gouvernementales in the Quebec City region had poor results, and some local media reported that many listeners complained the signal created a deafening noise that was incomprehensible.
Motulsky said climate, communications and geography specialists will have to work together to address the challenges related to the risk associated with extreme weather.
With summer almost here, he said, heat waves are a real concern. “They can have major health impacts, especially on vulnerable or elderly people. But they aren’t as obvious to address as a snowstorm.”
In the spring of 2011, Quebecers living along the shores of the Richelieu River found themselves wading through hip-deep waters in what was one of the worst floods in Quebec’s history. Residents of the Richelieu Valley suffered more than $78 million in losses.
Unfortunately, flooding is one of the most common hydro-meteorological hazards. In Canada alone, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program has been applied to more than 210 events since 1970, with total payments of more than $3.4 billion made to provinces and territories. Of those 210 events, 190 were flood-related.
Gachon concurred that there has been an increase in natural disasters in the last couple of decades and that floods are one of the big problems. But snowstorms and heat waves are also important.
“This is a summer school on weather risks because there are more and more problems around the world,” said Gachon. “And the impact of these events in terms of economic costs and health, in terms of mortality rates, is huge.”
By Karen Seidman. Source: Montreal Gazette