Resilience under the microscope at EGU23

Monday, May 22, 2023

Viktor Roezer, Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics shares his reflections of this years EGU23 event, what research has learned from recent disasters and where to go from here.

In it’s second year in Vienna after the Covid-19 pandemic, EGU was back in full swing with over 15000 participants from 107 countries attending the in-person event at Vienna’s Austria Center and a further 3400 attending online.

Following the pattern of previous years, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance was represented across the event with members of the Alliance serving as convenors, or co-convenors, of multiple sessions concerning natural hazards and resilience. Alliance colleagues also participated in EGU23 sessions on measuring heatwave resilience, rapid urbanisation and flash floods in desert regions, exploration of flood-lead times through river level monitoring, and more! Our EGU23 event page provides further details on Alliance participation as well as links to the abstract submissions for all sessions and presentations.

EGU General Assembly 2023 Credit: Viktor Roezer, London School of Economics

The ever growing interest in resilience and risk reduction

Being back to almost its pre-pandemic size also meant a comeback of the usual mix of excitement, brain overload and fear of missing out when checking EGU’s packed programme. A welcome change for me this year was the fact that our Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance session on “Resilience building and risk reduction” received so many submissions that it ran for the entire Monday, which meant that all I had to do was listen to the many interesting presentations in our session instead of frantically trying to find my way around the massive conference center, which seems to be designed to resemble the maze at Schönbrunn Palace at the other end of town.

As the biggest sessions of the Natural Hazard & Society programme group at EGU, our sessions reflect the ever-growing interest in resilience and risk reduction among the geoscientific research community. Whilst our session was packed with interesting presentations, including by Alliance colleagues Naomi Rubenstein and Jung Hee Hyun on CRMC and FRMC, I would also like to mention some personal highlights. This includes Mariana Madruga de Brito and colleagues’ presentation on how surprisingly few academic studies on social vulnerability, resilience and adaptation refer to a specific theoretical underpinning. Their argument that without more transparent and robust empirical studies this field of research keeps going in circles, was a good reminder that resilience is not just a buzz word and needs to be backed by both theory and evidence.

Another highlight were the many presentations on the recovery process in the areas heavily affected by the 2021 floods in Western Europe. The slow and complicated processes around reconstruction and the attempts of “building back better” were a stark reminder that flood resilience and recovery presents a huge challenge even in one of the wealthiest parts of the world.

Presentation on the evaluation of resilience-building interventions according to measurement frameworks. Credit: Viktor Roezer, London School of Economics

A change in views on flood risk

The experience of recent disastrous flood events seems to have also led to a re-adjustment in the research community about what we know and don’t know about flood risk and to what degree we should only rely on models when predicting floods and planning for risk reduction. A great example reflecting on flood risk modelling was Alberto Viglione’s Plinius Medal lecture on grey swans, highlighting the need to not only rely on short measurement series covering the last decades, but look for other sources of information such as indigenous knowledge or folk memories even if they might be less precise.

Where do we go from here?

On the other end of this spectrum is a new generation of datasets and models catering to the increasing demand of the public and private sectors to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Taking advantage of increased computational power, improvements in earth observation and other technologies, these models are becoming powerful enough to provide decadal forecasts of the expected impacts from climate change at a level of detail that allows to support local level decision-making on adaptation. While many of the results still need to be taken with a pitch of salt, there is no doubt that this new type of climate impact models will be critical to decide on how we can adapt to climate-related impacts in a warmer world.

For more information on the participation of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance at EGU23, click here.

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