Researchers highlight how cascading extreme weather events risk damaging entire socioeconomic systems

Published: Thursday, 11 August 2022 07:39

The cascading effects of extreme weather – such as heatwaves which combine heat and drought – and the interconnectedness of critical services and sectors has the potential to destabilize entire socioeconomic systems, according to a new study published in PLOS Climate by Laura Niggli at University of Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues.

The study says that many risk assessments and resilience plans only consider individual, rather than cascading and concurrent, events.

To better understand how extreme weather might affect interlinked socioeconomic systems, the authors of the present study conducted a qualitative network-type analysis, first reviewing studies of eight historical concurrent heat and drought extreme events in Europe, Africa, and Australia. Next, they compiled examples of interlinked impacts on several critical services and sectors, including human health, transport, agriculture and food production, and energy. For example, drought events reduced river navigation options, limiting the transport of critical goods. Rail transport was simultaneously impacted when prolonged heat buckled the tracks. Using these analyses, researchers created visualizations of the interconnected effects of concurrent heat and drought events on those services and sectors.

The researchers found the most important cascading processes and interlinkages were focussed on the health, energy, and agriculture and food production sectors. In some instances, response measures for one sector had negative effects on other sectors. Future research should focus on response measures in interconnected systems to improve the resilience to compound heat and drought events, says the study.

According to the authors, “We identified an interconnected web of sectors that interact and cause additional losses and damages in several other sectors. This multilevel interconnectedness makes the risks of compound extreme events so complex and critical. More efforts should be concentrated on the analysis of such cascading risks and on strategies to interrupt such chains of impacts, rather than compartmentalizing risk assessment into single extreme events, impacts and sectors”.

Read the paper ‘Towards improved understanding of cascading and interconnected risks from concurrent weather extremes: Analysis of historical heat and drought extreme events’ by Niggli L, Huggel C, Muccione V, Neukom R, and Salzmann N.