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Risk Assessment

Course Name: 
Climate Change Downscaling Approaches and Applications - Course 1 (2015)

Prof. Srikantha Herath
Academic Director, United Nations University, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS)
Visiting Professor, Integrated Research Systems for Sustainability Science, University of Tokyo


This session introduces the concepts of risk, hazard, and vulnerability as used in the disaster management and climate change fields. The session will discuss probability and risk based infrastructure design concepts, and how climate change modifies these approaches.


Changes to extreme event magnitudes due to climate change are a major concern of the global community. Often extreme events cause catastrophic losses in terms human suffering and economic damage. A clear understanding of risks, their relation to impacts and losses that result from varying degrees of vulnerabilities and coping capacities of communities subjected to the hazards is necessary to discuss appropriate adaptation strategies. This session start with basic definitions of risk, hazard, vulnerability and resilience and move to definition of extreme events, non-linear relation between extreme events and magnitudes. Identifying probability distributions, threshold magnitudes and their changes will be introduced. The
current evidence and model based projections on extremes will be compared and implications on design as well as adaptation options are studied.


1. Definitions
a. Definition of Risk, Hazard and Vulnerability
b. Comparison of climate and disaster risk reduction community definitions
c. Identifying vulnerability (physical, social and economical)
d. Sectoral vulnerability
e. Adaptive capacity

2. Resilience
a. Definitions and key concepts
b. Building resilience, practical actions and examples
3. Extreme Events
a. What are extreme events
b. Probabilistic definitions
c. Extreme ‘physical’ events
4. Climate change modifications to extremes and challenges
a. Non linear relation between extreme events and extreme losses
b. What makes a catastrophic hydro meteorological disaster
c. Changes to probability functions
d. Infrastructure design implications under climate change uncertaintyLearning Outcomes

On completion of this course the student should have:

1. Knowledge of fundamental concepts relating to risk, hazards, vulnerability and resilience in the climate change context.
2. Understanding of extremes, impacts and estimating thresholds for climate related time series.
3. Understanding of climate change modification to extremes and implications on infrastructure design.

Suggested Readings

Adger, W. N., Agrawala, S., Mirza, M. M. Q., Conde, C., O’Brien, K., Pulhin, J., Pulwarty, R., Smit B. & Takahashi, K. 2007. Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. In Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J. & Hanson, C. E. (Eds.). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 717-743.
Brooks, N. 2003. Vulnerability, risk and adaptation: a conceptual framework, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK.

Commission on Climate Change and Development 2009. Closing the Gaps: disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change in developing countries, Report of the Commission on Climate Change & Development, Stockholm, Sweden, 77 pp.

Srikantha Herath

Academic Programme Director, Postgraduate Programmes; Head, Global Change, and Sustainability Section; and senior Academic Programme Officer, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan.

Dr. Srikantha Herath engages in research and education in water security, climate change and natural disaster risk reduction. His postgraduate teaching and research currently focuses on global change impacts on environmental processes, especially related to atmospheric process with applications in urban hydrology, flood forecasting, damage estimation, sediment transport and water cycle change assessment using physically based distributed hydrological modelling aided by Remote Sensing and GIS.