Natural hazards high on the agenda at EGU 2022

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

After two years of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the General Assembly of the European Geosiences Union returned to an in-person format. Thousands of scientists and practitioners travelled to Vienna, with many more taking advantage of EGU 2022’s hybrid format by joining remotely.

As ever, the EGU featured strong representation from across the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance. Members of our team served as convenors, or co-convenors, of several sessions concerning the impact of natural hazards. Others participated in presentations on analysis of the 2021 floods in Europe, the framing of existential climate risks, and much more. You can view all instances of Alliance participation, and read the abstract submissions, on our EGU 2022 event page

Viktor Roezer, Research Officer at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change & the Environment, was in Vienna and shares his reflections.

EGU convenors and Alliance members Demet Intepe (Practical Action), Viktor Roezer (Grantham Institute, LSE) and Finn Laurien (IIASA)

The power of personal connections

It felt really nice to catch up with current and former colleagues and friends, many of whom I had only seen on a screen for the last two and a half years – and some of whom I had never met in person. Lots of conference attendees that I spoke to shared my enthusiasm, but also felt that there is some room for improvement regarding the new hybrid format of the conference to allow for more formal and informal networking and engagement opportunities.

However, it should be mentioned that the organisers did a fantastic job in running such a large conference under the challenging conditions we are still facing, and I am excited to see how academic conferences will evolve in the post-pandemic era.

Meeting the challenge of multiple hazards

A highlight was seeing Adrianna Keating of IIASA, one of the Alliance’s partner organisations, presenting our Climate Reslience Measurement for Communities (CMRC) tool. This multi-hazard framework builds on the success of the flood-focused FRMC, which the Alliance developed and has used for many years. With climate change exacerbating extreme weather events, it is important to observe where hazards such as heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods are likely to converge, and what effect that has on a community’s resilience.

Using examples from North and South America, the presentation illustrated how users of the tool can develop deeper insights into the hazard-specific aspects of a system, as well as general resilience strengths and needs.

Resilience on the rise

In terms of the topics and emerging trends in the academic community, I was really pleased to see how much the field of disaster resilience has grown at EGU, and how much attention it receives from many scientists who were previously solely concerned about the physical properties of hazard events. Our sessions had some really exciting new presentations, and were well attended both in person and online. What started as a somewhat niche session on “Resilience to natural hazards” three years ago has now become a fixture in the EGU Natural Hazards division.

During one of the big open discussion sessions (called “big debates” in EGU jargon) on the future of hydrology, the audience was asked in a quick online poll what geoscientists and hydrologists are missing in their research. The overwhelming answer was “humans” (followed by “ice cream”, which gives you an idea of how geeky EGU can be…).

Collaboration across disciplines

This all leaves me with the impression that previous silos between natural and social sciences in disaster risk research are slowly but surely eroding. While not many social scientists would have previously been inclined to attend a geoscience conference (and vice versa), I found that even the most die-hard natural scientists at EGU have started to show a genuine interest in topics such as resilience and socio-hydrology.

Based on what I observed at EGU 2022, I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated this development by challenging some previous worldviews on what resilience means, and how to achieve it.

Viktor Roezer is a Research Officer at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change & the Environment.

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  • Arthur William Okero Obare says:

    I totally agree with your emphasis on collaboration across disciplines and sectors. This used to be the norm in the 1970s. This was however overtaken by self interest and everyone working within his or her silo often to the detrement of the success of others. In my experience, geoscientis cannot do without hydrologists neither can hydrologists do without geoscientis. In the same vin, both cannot do without social scientists. This is an issue that must be addressed at the University level.