The costs of future disasters are projected to increase due to more frequent and intense extreme events such as storms and floods. But this is only explains part of expected growth in disaster losses. Damage from extreme events is largely determined by patterns of human development, e.g. the trillions of dollars’ worth of beachfront housing and infrastructure. Development involves choices made every day in regions that experience extreme events, and these choices influence the nature of future disasters.
If policy makers wish to address the escalating costs of disasters then it is important to understand how alternative actions will influence future damages. Policy debates on climate change tend to focus on energy policies, but increasingly acknowledge that adaptation must also be a part of the discussion, especially with regard to disasters.
In one application of this concept, we examined the sensitivity of future losses to changes in climate and changes in patterns of future development. Instead of predicting changes in climate, development, or future disaster losses, we assessed what factors are likely to be most responsible for any potential changes in those phenomena across a wide range of assumptions. We hoped to enable decision makers to identify beneficial policy actions despite uncertainties.