Natural disasters and global environmental change

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FOCUS five Big Themes

Addressing natural hazards, which occur or have serious consequences on a regional level, FOCUS centres on major external threats to greater areas (outside and within the European Union) that may shape future roles of the EU as a comprehensive security provider: They can cause humanitarian crises of scales requiring a wide spectrum of correspondent responses, as they could impact infrastructures and human environment (e.g. causing injuries, deaths, disruption of living conditions and even migrations, refugees, and conflicts). Further, interactions among different hazards, multi-hazards, technological hazards, and the fact that human activities can initiate or influence processes and events are going to play an increasing role.

A natural hazard represents the potential interactions between humans and extreme natural events. It represents the potential or likelihood of an event (it is not the event itself). By definition then, natural hazards constitute a threat to society. Such a threat is ever-present, representing an intrinsic force with which all societies must cope in one way or another. The hazard exists because humans or their activities are constantly exposed to natural forces.

The EU and its citizens are vulnerable to natural hazards in two both direct and indirect ways. Direct effects are for instance physical harm due to an earthquake or damage of structures because of flooding. Indirect effects occur for example in the form of lack of supplies due to critical infrastructure breakdown, or in the form of increased migration due to land loss, droughts, etc. All “classical” natural hazards may be fostered by high system level hazards, thus their frequency and/or severity is increased.

Although measures to prevent and mitigate the hazards themselves are necessary and useful, reinforcing the EU’s mitigating and coping capabilities at this level will never be sufficient, as the underlying developments at a high system level evolve to trigger increasingly larger catastrophes. End-of-pipe approaches might be unavoidable in limited cases in the short run, but will not solve the problems as such. The hazards on a high system level are in essence a security issue and must be addressed with high priority.

Challenges for security research#

Overuse of resources is the common issue. The global ecological footprint indicates that about 1.4 planets Earth would be needed to make our present global resource use sustainable. The resource use in the industrialized world would even require several planets Earth. The hope that technological improvement will happen fast enough to stabilize or even reduce the impact of a 7 billion population (expected to reach 9 to 10 billion by the middle of this century), claiming more resources year by year, is not justified. Any scarcity in resources will lead to higher tension among nations and population groups and therefore increase other geopolitical and social security problems.

This implies several future tracks for EU roles as well as for security research. With regard to research, one focus could be on meta-projects that integrate results from previously EU funded and other projects on natural hazards and their security aspects. However, this would require enhance accessibility of previous studies and their results. Other topics could be anthropogenic (or “man-made”) natural disasters and multi-disciplinary scenarios of maximum credible natural events. Those scenarios could contribute to identifying maximum possible damage from a combination of primary (destruction by shockwave), secondary (e.g. fires), and tertiary (e.g. supply chain damage, loss of production) effects for a given region, nation, or the EU as a whole. Moreover, future research should investigate drivers of change in individual behaviour in relation to climate change mitigation.

Top-3 challenges as identified in FOCUS horizon scanning#

  • Nature sustainability
  • Impact of safety incidents on nature
  • Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and flooding

Full problem space report#

Deliverable 4.1

Related scenarios#

The scenario structure and descriptions in this Big Theme were inspired by the following studies:

The scenario description repository is a workspace that contains more extensive information, on which the following scenario descriptions are based.

Reference scenario#

Scenarios for "EU 2035" roles and futuristic missions #

Scenarios for "Security Research 2035"#

Expected key technologies in the scenario space of this Big Theme#

  • Smart power grids
  • Electromobility
  • Decentralized power generators
  • Uses of smartphones for individualized (or more individualized) emergency assistance
  • Service robots

Requirements for IT-based knowledge management in the scenario space#

  • Support for comprehensive education programmes that increase societal resilience
  • Advancing disaster forecast technologies and integrating information gained based on those technologies
  • Technology for structured exchange of information
  • Knowledge management and knowledge integration
  • Platform for crisis communication
  • Platform to support crisis management (e.g., knowledge-based decision support)
  • Platform for education and training of decision-makers and first responders

Common analytical framework matrix (CAFM)#

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