By Ann Schnitz, Environmental Toxicologist at Baldwin Consulting Group
Risk assessment, whether it be ecological or human health, considers the impacts of toxic constituents on people and the environment. It evaluates which receptors are affected via the potential pathway(s) of exposure – either inhalation, ingestion or direct contact (i.e., dermal) – and using quantitative and qualitative methods, determines the magnitude of response(s). Classically, risk assessment was developed to support Superfund and similar cleanup programs by creating a hierarchy of need. Those sites demonstrating the highest probability of risk were slated for cleanup first, and so on.
We can apply comparable principles when talking about climate change. In 2016, a climate change risk assessment was produced by the Centre for Science and Policy (CsaP) at the University of Cambridge, based on a series of meetings held at Harvard University, Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi and Lancaster House in London. These meetings were attended by experts in energy policy, climate science, technology, finance, international security, politics and economics, with the ultimate goal of determining how big a problem climate change really is.
The report asserts that the risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security, financial stability, or public health. It concentrates especially on the “worst-case scenario,” how likely it is to occur, and what steps can be taken to reduce the risks of that scenario. To quote from the report: “The most important decision any government has to make about climate change is one of priority: how much effort to expend on countering it, relative to the effort that must be spent on other issues. This risk assessment aims to inform that decision.”
The following topics were considered:
Now, considering the challenges we face here in Washington, are there potential benefits of a collaborative risk assessment for climate-related coastal hazards? Would determining responses that are proportionate to risks and sharing an agenda for allocating resources based on prioritized risk reduction be valuable?
Although these questions are extremely complex, one thing is for certain. Actions must be taken to address these issues at multiple scales, and it will take coordinated effort. Meetings such as these, in which experts from various agencies and perspectives participate together to determine priorities and solutions, are an important first step
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