Trying to build impregnable defenses against an increasing number of extreme weather events wracking the planet won't work, says a report from the Royal Society that argues instead for a strategy of resilient adaptation of infrastructure and policy.
The report says global weather patterns are becoming more difficult to predict, and a rising and aging population means more people are vulnerable to extreme events. The report pointed to Hurricane Sandy, the most destructive storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines.
One recommendation of the report is putting new attention on how natural systems can protect people and property from extreme weather.
"If you think about what happened with Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey, after the fact we saw a lot of places that removed natural barriers to storm surge that were devastated," said Nancy Grimm, a professor at Arizona State University who focuses on urban systems and ecosystem science and who contributed to the Royal Society report.
"New York City is actually going back now to evaluate these systems and how they can enhance resilience," she told NBC News.
The report also advises:
- Building resilience into infrastructure, such as sea walls and dams, by focusing on minimizing the consequences of failure rather than on trying to prevent that failure. "It’s not sufficient to say we’re going to build this monumental infrastructure that’s going to take care of it all," Grimm said, given the growing number of people living in areas at risk from such events as flash floods and hurricanes. "We can’t really be fail-safe anymore."
- Taking the increase in extreme weather into account when completing key international agreements in 2015 on climate change, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
- Bolstering research on weather risks and developing more accurate models for the effects of climate change.
The report also says that the number of heat waves that older people experience could increase threefold by 2100 and that higher temperatures and humidity could affect people's ability to work outdoors and hurt food production.