Workshop for a network on emergent risks and extreme events held in Tokyo

Fumiko Kasuga, Director of Future Earth's Global Hub in Japan, addresses attendees at a recent workshop focusing on disaster risks. Photo: Hideyuki Mohri
Participants in a recent workshop in Japan scoped the first steps for new Knowledge-Action Network focusing on reducing risks from the impacts of climate change.

Extreme weather events had a major profile in the news in 2017 – with severe storms and flooding battering parts of the Americas, Caribbean and South Asia. That made a recent workshop that Future Earth hosted at the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo especially timely. The event, which took place on 22 November, addressed a newly-developed Knowledge-Action Network focusing on Emergent Risks and Extreme Events. This new network is a collaboration between Future Earth, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

Learn more about Future Earth’s Knowledge-Action Networks here.

The Risks Knowledge-Action Network seeks to bring together diverse expertise and professional and local knowledge to to reduce disaster risks on climate-related hazards – such as from floods, storms and dangerous heat waves. The network will focus particularly on the severe risks from multiple hazards, compound events and cascading impacts and on anticipating the disaster risks that emerge as environmental and climate change accelerate.

The main objectives of the November workshop were to discuss possible research priorities, practical collaborations and near-term governance of the Knowledge-Action Network. Participants also discussed how to engage experts in policy, business and civil society in this collaboration. About 80 participants from diverse backgrounds, including early career professionals, actively participated in discussions.

Gordon McBean, Co-Chair of the Future Earth Governing Council speaks at the risks workshop. Photo: Hideyuki Mohri

In his welcome address, Kazuhiko Takemoto, Director of the UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, outlined the purpose of the workshop and touched on related research activities conducted at UNU. Gordon McBean, President of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and Co-Chair of the Future Earth Governing Council, provided perspectives from his organisation. He mentioned how ICSU will continue supporting international activities, such as its research programmes, IRDR, WCRP, Urban Health and Wellbeing (UHWB) and Future Earth. Osamu Saito, Academic Director of the UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, highlighted work from his organisation, including an ongoing project focusing on strengthening community-based resilience in an area affected by both floods and drought in Ghana.

Fumiko Kasuga, Director of Future Earth’s Global Hub in Japan, briefed participants on the preparatory activities of the Risks Knowledge-Action Network. She stressed the importance of facilitating networking and collaboration across research programmes and outlined the network’s objectives looking to the future. Next, Mark Pelling, a member of the Scientific Committee of IRDR, shared the visions, objectives and scope of the Knowledge-Action Network on behalf of the group that drafted the framing document for the network. He mentioned that the high-level objectives are to engage with experts across society, conduct solution-oriented scientific research, articulate and meet the data needs of diverse communities and support decision-making.

Markus Reichstein, Future Earth E3S, kicked off the afternoon session with an online keynote speech on the need for and implementation of the Risks Knowledge-Action Network. He stressed the increasing prevalence of climate extremes and the importance of a systems view and data-based approach to such challenges. This was followed by three sessions of breakout group discussions. Shuaib Lwasa, Chair of IRDR Scientific Committee, moderated the first session of the afternoon in which participants discussed how the network could build collaboration and engagement. The second session, which was moderated by Jana Sillmann of WCRP, addressed the research priorities of the Knowledge-Action Network. Key topics were understanding hazards, vulnerability and data and information needs.

Workshop participants talk during a small-group discussion. Photo: Hideyuki Mohri

Finally, Thorsten Kiefer, Director of Future Earth’s Global Hub in Paris, chaired a third session on internal governance. Participants discussed aspects of the formation of a development team for the Knowledge-Action Network, day-to-day coordination, communication and engagement and resourcing. For each session the key conclusions were reported back to the plenary and recorded for consideration.

After group discussions, the workshop wrapped up with a summary from representatives of IRDR, WCRP and Future Earth. Qunli Han from IRDR mentioned that next steps are need to clarify the mission of the Risks Knowledge-Action Network, including the research and knowledge needed. He also emphasised the importance of being innovative to create a space that people can comfortably participate, as well as looking to the impacts of future technologies. Boram Lee from WCRP talked about the importance of creating common terminology, the role of the network in providing unconventional data and ensuring ownership by the community. Thorsten Kiefer recapitulated on the next steps, such as the formation of a development team, and discussed initial activities that can provide proofs of concept and attract more engagement and resources. They included a gap analysis, defining terminology and short-term pilot projects.

The full-day workshop was concluded with closing remarks from Jakob Rhyner, Vice Rector of United Nations University and Co-Chair of the Future Earth Governing Council. He called on the Knowledge-Action Network to create “naturally seen benefits” so that people will want to participate on their own. He also encouraged the group to not be afraid of starting small, while striving for an  an inclusive network in the mid-term. The scoping workshop explored new avenues for existing organisations to collaborate on topics of risks and extremes, while opening up a new space for further inclusivity and innovative approaches.