Aerial view of the residential area of Milton, during the great Brisbane flood of 2011, the worst flooding disaster in Australia's history.

Aerial view of the residential area of Milton, during the great Brisbane flood of 2011, the worst flooding disaster in Australia’s history.

‘Escalating observed and projected losses demonstrate the need to build resilience to extreme weather now.’

Two years ago, when the Royal Society decided to begin a new policy study looking at ‘Resilience to extreme weather’ a key part of the rationale was the huge impact extreme weather can have on people’s lives and their livelihoods – the impacts present an obstacle to development and can erode its gains.

What’s more, the impacts of extreme weather present a growing challenge. Over the past few decades, although the mortality risk associated with extreme weather is decreasing globally, the economic costs are rising. The observed increases in the economic impacts are thought to be driven by changes in where people and assets are based; increasingly in extreme weather-prone areas. In the future, the added pressures of the potential effect of climate change on extreme weather and continued population growth, ageing and urbanisation are likely to increase the exposure of people and their assets to this threat.

The significant impact that extreme weather currently has on the global population is what is referred to in the report as the ‘resilience deficit’ – the gap between what communities are resilient to and the actual extreme weather they are facing. The concept is important because it means that society is essentially starting from behind in the race to build its resilience. It highlights how difficult it might be to reduce losses from extremes in the future, when the challenge is continuing to grow.

All this indicates that we need a step change in the way that we are addressing this problem. The international frameworks being agreed this year on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change present one opportunity to galvanise global action.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the impact of extreme weather, how it has changed and how it could change in the future see Chapter 2 of ‘Resilience to extreme weather’.

Read other posts in the ‘Resilience in brief’ blog series.