IDRC 2014, Davos, Switzerland, August 28, 2014

Session on “Global Disasters: Addressing the Risk Associated with Extreme Geohazards”

Organized by the GHCP at the IDRC 2014 with support from, and in coordination with, the European Science Foundation.


Mega disasters associated with extreme natural hazards have the potential to escalate the global sustainability crisis and put us close to the boundaries of the safe operating space for humanity. Floods, droughts, storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcano eruptions frequently cause disasters that potentially could reach planetary extent, particularly through secondary economic and social impacts. These threats eventually could exceed the immediate coping capacity of the global economy, particularly since we have built mega cities in hazardous areas that are now ready to be harvested by natural hazards. Those relatively frequent hazards with major impacts are on our radar screen; they cause fears and worries. The more we learn to cope with these relatively frequent hazards, the less we are worried about the low-probability events that might have a very high impact. As a consequence, the threats from the events that typically happen once in a few hundred or more years are crossly underestimated and not appropriately accounted for in disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs.


The session had the objective to contribute to a basis for risk assessment and DRR for the low-probability, high-impact events in the tails of the probability density function (PDF) of geohazards. The tails are characterized by large uncertainties in the PDF, which hampers realistic risk assessments. We reviewed the knowledge of the extreme tails of the PDFs for major geohazards. A study supported by European Science Foundation (ESF) has shown that in particular major volcano eruptions have the potential to impact humanity on a global level. Besides local and regional direct impacts, large volcano eruptions have the potential to impact climate, anthropogenic infrastructure and resource supplies on global scale. During the last 2,000 years several eruptions occurred, which today are associated with extreme disaster risk. So far, modern civilization has not been exposed to the most extreme events of the past few thousand years. Under today's circumstances, these events are associated with extreme disaster risks, comparable to other possible mega-disasters from extreme droughts, floods, pandemics, and asteroid impacts. We will consider the consequences for monitoring systems that could provide early warnings of the occurrence of these hazards. The study suggests that a global volcano monitoring system is required as a basis for an early warning system (EWS). However, for some eruptions, lead times are extremely short and DRR will require to reduce vulnerability of infrastructure, increase economic and social resilience, and adaptive capabilities to potentially large long-term changes in environmental conditions. Integration of these low-probability, high-impact events in DRR requires an approach focused on resilience and antifragility, as well as the ability to cope with failure of infrastructure and social systems. A paradigm shift is suggested toward integrated DRR and Resilience (D3R) programs that more aggressively facilitate the public trust, cooperation, and communication needed to adequately prepare for and recover from expected disasters as well as Black Swan disasters. We discussed to what extent current international governance is prepared to facilitate this paradigm shift and to integrate the risks associated with extreme events into DRR.

Aims & Outcomes

The session aimed to raise awareness for the threats associated with low-probability extreme geohazards with the potential to cause global disasters, and develop options for a DRR that accounts for these hazards. As a result of the session, recommendations for monitoring and governance approaches that could lead to a reduced risk associated with these events were made.


Thursday, August 28, 2014; 13:30 - 15:00

1330 - 13:50: Ripepe, M.: The global scale spectrum of theĀ volcanic hazard (abstract, presentation)
1350 - 14:05: Plag, H.-P.: Hoping for the Best or Preparing for Extreme Hazards: The Example of Extreme Geohazards (abstract, powerpoint presentation; keynote presentation)
1405 - 14:20: Campus, P.: Geohazards and monitoring networks (abstract, presentation)
1420 - 14:35: Stein, S.: Recognizing, Imperfectly Assessing, and Partially Mitigating Extreme Geohazards in the Presence of Deep Uncertainty (abstract, presentation ppt/pptx)
1435 - 14:50: Brosnan, D.: Role for Science in the Global Management of Extreme Geohazards (presentation in ppt/pptx)
1450 - 15:00: All: Discussion

Last edited 02 December 2016
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