The dichotomy between intense precipitation concentrated in short lapses of time and long dry periods with almost total absence of rainfall exists in the Mediterranean climate. Floods and water scarcity constitute two sides of the same coin. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out that freshwater-related risks, such as floods and droughts, are projected to intensify with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Flood episodes are expected to be more frequent and severe. Already, floods are the natural catastrophe that generates the most damage in Spain, and is estimated to cost an average of 800 million euros per year.
Despite this daunting prognosis, the impact of climate change risks is not only a matter of hazard. Exposure and vulnerability also intervene and may act as main characters or antagonists when describing the impacts of climate change risks. According to the IPCC, vulnerability is the “propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected” and it describes a set of circumstances that derive from cultural, social, environmental, political, and economic contexts. Acknowledging that risk results from the interaction of exposure, hazard and vulnerability, it is relevant to point out that the Spanish public administration has only considered the two first dimensions. Nonetheless, the unexplored facet of vulnerability may change the picture of risk.
This has served as the basis for the new study carried out by Jerònia Cubells, currently working as an intern in UEP group. The focus of Jerònia’s research is to identify vulnerable communities in urban environments with the purpose of performing a more comprehensive assessment that considers the different constituents of risk.
The second objective of Jerònia’s research deals with urban and social policies, hence the Spanish political framework is introduced. While legislation concerning climate change has been done at autonomous scale, the national draft bill is stalled and hampered by the end of the legislative mandate. Given the lack of a national political frame to tackle climate change, some autonomous communities, such as the Balearic Islands and Catalonia have positioned themselves at the forefront adopting a legal framework in line with Paris Agreement. In this context, pinpointing and mapping locations with higher vulnerability may serve as a tool to prioritize and encourage policies promoting social sustainability and community resilience.
Jerònia Cubells is pursuing a degree in Environmental Sciences in the University of Barcelona and is currently an intern in UEP group as part of her exchange programme in the University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on climate change risks in the Mediterranean context, particularly on social vulnerability to floods in urban environments.