Managing the Risks of Climate Change: An A-B-C Approach

Third Generation Environmental recommends that an international risk management strategy would help policymakers better weigh climate security risks. Credit: Hans Splinter/flickr

You probably didn't study the principles of risk-management at school, but each time you stop to weigh the consequences of your actions, trying to think about all the possible outcomes, you’re putting those principles to work. And according to Third Generation Environmentalism, or E3G — a British non-profit think tank focused on sustainable development — the same approach could be put to good use in discussions of climate security.

Last week E3G released a report recommending that an international risk management strategy be adopted to deal with climate change. In their report, Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, E3G says that countries can benefit from approaching the risks associated with climate change in a similar manner that militaries deal with national security challenges. 

The report’s authors, Nick Mabey, Jay Gulledge, Bernard Finel and Katherine Silverthorne, argue that climate change is not being well managed. Although United Nations climate negotiations include a goal of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2°C above the pre-industrial average, most countries have not enacted measures to meet that goal, instead pledging to reduce emissions in such a way that would still lead to 3 to 4°C of warming during this century. How can the two degree goal be met if countries are each assessing risk differently, and picking unique emissions reduction targets?

Like any responsible risk-management strategy, E3G’s report lays out a series of objectives to determine climate security risks, identify ways to reduce such risks, and also plan for the worst-case scenario. It presents what it calls an “A,B,C framework”of risk management:

·      Aim to stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warming by 2100

·      Build and budget assuming 3-4°C (5.4 to 7.2°F) of warming may occur

·      Contingency plan for 5-7°C (9-12°F) of warming.

The authors point out that taking a risk management approach to climate security:

“Endeavors to reduce both the probability of a bad outcome and the potential severity of its consequences. Good risk management requires us to account rigorously for the full range of possible outcomes and understand the deficiencies of our institutional systems in dealing with them.”

In other words, by evaluating the risks and possible outcomes of different climate change scenarios, both the public and policy makers will have a better sense of how they can react to them. They will be better equipped to decide what actions they are prepared to take once they understand the range of consequences.   

The full report itself goes into detail about the necessary steps involved in taking a risk management approach to climate security, and over at the DotEarth blog, Andrew Revkin has shared his thoughts on some of these. Though he describes the report as having a “refreshing” perspective for the environmental community because it presents climate change as a series of risks that can be managed more effectively than they are currently — and not as an “unfolding catastrophe” — he also offers some sage criticism. Namely, Revkin points out that the entire premise relies on nations agreeing on an acceptable level of risk, even though the challenge of finding this common ground is one of the reasons that there hasn’t been more international action to date.