Do climate-related disasters enable policy action for climate adaptation and sustainable development?

The researchers in this project will investigate whether and how countries use climate-related disasters as an opportunity to accelerate efforts to achieve climate-resilient development. This research is vital because it will enhance our understanding of which factors are essential for facilitating learning and policy change after disasters. It will also add crucial knowledge about how societies make transformational progress toward achieving a safer and more sustainable world.

Many recent reports confirm the need for wide-ranging societal changes to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce climate risks and contribute to a more sustainable world. Countries’ policies, i.e., the sum of all public targets, means, and measures are central to these efforts.

The 2022 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the need for action to ensure “climate-resilient development” to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, strengthen countries’ ability to adapt to climate risks, and contribute to sustainable development. The Swedish Climate Policy Council recently drew the same conclusion, emphasizing the importance of accelerating the climate transition in Sweden and globally.

The IPCC has therefore called for research to increase our knowledge of the conditions under which countries can implement more ambitious policy measures in these areas.

This project studies one of these conditions in depth, examining the assumption that climate-related disasters make it possible to implement ambitious policy measures. Previous research often assumes that policy measures generally change slowly but may undergo periods of dramatic change, sometimes in the wake of disruptive disasters. This assumption is disputed among researchers, however. Some argue that disasters enable far-reaching policy measures; others that disasters are more likely to entrench existing measures. But these contradictory expectations have yet to be empirically tested in more extensive studies, and existing knowledge rests almost entirely on studies of single disasters or those confined to a single country or region. Consequently, there is a need for a coherent body of knowledge about the potential effects of climate-related disasters on national policy measures for climate-resilient development.

The project, therefore, aims to examine whether and under what conditions climate-related disasters enable policy measures for climate-resilient development in countries around the world. This work will answer several pressing questions: How often do disasters lead to climate-resilient development? Do disasters alter countries’ priorities in relation to the balance between measures to reduce emissions, climate adaptation, and sustainable development? Why do some disasters result in major policy changes while others do not, particularly in more vulnerable societies?

This interdisciplinary project will utilize multiple methods and theoretical perspectives. Data on countries’ approaches to policy will be combined with data on more than 10,000 disaster events and will be analyzed statistically to investigate potential effects globally and in selected vulnerable countries.

Text data analysis will be used to code numerous policy documents for a detailed description of national-level measures, which cannot be traced using existing datasets. Finally, the researchers intend to carry out case studies in selected countries to identify factors and conditions that enable and constrain policy measures in the wake of climate-related disasters.

“Enabling climate-resilient development: How disasters can act as a pathway to a safer and more sustainable world”

Principal investigator:
Professor Daniel Nohrstedt

Uppsala University
Charles Parker
Susann Ullberg
Chuan-Zhong Li
Sara Stymne
Paola Vesco
Lauri Peterson

Uppsala University

SEK 9.1 million