The Risks of Climate Change

The Fourth Assessment Report (FAR) from the IPCC (2007a) confirms that the consequences of climate change will not only be restricted to an increase in average planet temperature, but it will also entail the change of the entire climate system, including precipitation, wind, frequency and intensity of extreme events, having different impact in the diverse world regions. Studies carried out with global circulation models (GCM) and regional circulation models (RCM) with regard to Europe have both indicated the following:

• Increase in average temperature in Europe

• Decrease in rainfall in Southern Europe

• Increase in rainfall in Northern Europe

• Possible increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events across Europe

The last point of this list highlights the risk of growing intensity of floods and landslides throughout the Italian territory. In fact, the climatological data indicate that while water scarcity will be a future problem issue for Italy, the possibility for occasional floods with more severe impact than the average of previous events should not be overlooked. Similar considerations apply to landslides, to which the Italian hilly and mountainous territory is particularly vulnerable and they can be triggered by heavy rainfall events (Bigano and Pauli 2007).

Data provided by Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT 2011) indicate that floods were the main type of natural disaster in Europe with 283 disastrous floods in the last 25 years, with an increasing frequency. In regard to Italy, data indicate that, among natural disasters, floods are ranked first, in terms of affected population, and second, in terms of economic damage. Landslides, being localized phenomenon, affect fewer people and cause less damage, but claim more victims than floods. The relevant EM-DAT statistics for Italy from 1900 to 2011 are summarized in Table 2.1. It is important that the impact of climate change is taken into account in policies aimed to protect from the geological risk.

Climate change may affect not only the quantitative status of water resources, but also its quality, due to alteration of the hydrological cycles. The main impacts on freshwater resources are the shifts in rain and snow cycles, changes in the availability and demand for water, variations in water quality, temperature and nutrient content, and fast melting down of glaciers with occurrence of flash floods (IPCC 2007b).

The relationship between landslides and climate change is very complex and less direct than the risk of flooding. It is clear that rain can cause landslides, with

Table 2.1 Major disasters in Italy from 1905 to 2006

Disaster

Type

Events

Death

Total

Damage

number

casualties

affected

(thousands US $)

Drought

Drought

2

-

-

800,000

Earthquake

Earthquake (ground

30

115,621

1,029,121

33,484,852

(seismic

shaking)

activity)

Average per event

3,854

34,304

1,116,161.7

Epidemic

Viral infectious diseases Average per event

2

1.5

10,001 5,000.5

Extreme

Cold wave

2

-

-

-

temperature

Extreme winter conditions

1

9

-

-

Heat wave

3

20,105

-

4,400,000

Average per event

6,701.7

-

1.466,666.7

Flood

Unspecified

15

492

1,485,020

2,930,000

Average per event

32,8

99,001.3

195,333.3

Flash flood

5

373

43,330

8,147,000

Average per event

74.6

8,666

1,629,400

General flood

15

182

1,336,962

11,718,600

Average per event

12.1

89,130.8

781,240

Mass movement

Avalanche

1

1

-

5,510

wet

Landslide

13

2,584

19,596

1,353,700

Average per event

198.8

1,507.4

104,130.8

Storm

Unspecified

11

188

6,000

2,328,700

Average per event

17.1

545.5

211,700

Extratropical cyclone

1

3

-

-

(winter storm)

Local storm

5

44

124

1,048,000

Average per event

8.8

24.8

209,600

Tropical cyclone

1

35

200

3,200

Volcano

Volcanic eruption

5

735

21,024

3,100

Wildfire

Forest fire

7

21

320

1,700,000

Average per event

3

45.7

242,857.1

Source: EM-DAT (2011)

Source: EM-DAT (2011)

different characteristics depending on types of landslide. Generally, fast landslides are the result of heavy rainfall, while slow ones are caused by rains of medium intensity. For Italy, climate change would represent a general increase of fast landslides and decrease of slow ones (Bigano and Pauli 2007).

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