Blame, responsibility and demand for change following floods

November 25, 2012

New research shows that concerns about governmental failure to act effectively and fairly in the aftermath of extreme weather events can affect the degree to which residents are willing to protect themselves.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the findings of a team led by scientists at the University of Exeter could prove key to establishing how society should evolve to cope with more turbulent weather and more frequent mega storms.

The team examined attitudes in Cumbria in north west England and Galway in western Ireland, which were both hit by heavy flooding in November 2009. Record rainfall was recorded in both countries, resulting in a number of deaths, properties being severely damaged and economic disruption.

Professor Neil Adger of Geography at the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: "The flooding of 2009 was devastating to both communities. Our study is the first to track the impacts of floods across two countries and how communities and individuals demand change after such events. When people in both studies felt that government had fallen short of their expectations, we found that the resulting perception of helplessness leads to an unwillingness to take personal action to prevent flooding in future."

Scientists at the University of Exeter worked with colleagues at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, which also provided funding for the study.

Researchers surveyed 356 residents in both areas eight months after the flooding. They measured perceptions of governments' performances in dealing with the aftermath, as well as perceptions of fairness in that response and the willingness of individuals to take action.

Dr Irene Lorenzoni of the Tyndall Centre comments: "Residents in Galway were significantly more likely to believe that their property would be flooded again than those in Cumbria. Yet it was Cumbrians who believed they had more personal responsibility to adapt to reduce future incidents.

"Whether people felt responses were fair also diverged. In our survey in Cumbria three quarters of respondents agreed that everyone in their community had received prompt help following the flooding, while in Galway it was less than half."

Dr Conor Murphy of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth said: "The strong perception in Galway that authorities failed to deliver on the expectations of flooded communities in late 2009 is a wakeup call. Given the high exposure of development in flood prone areas it is clear that both England and Ireland need to make major investments in building flood resilience with changing rainfall patterns induced by climate change. Political demand for those investments will only grow."

Professor Adger says: "Our research shows that climate change is likely to lead to a series of crises which will cause major disruption as instant short-term solutions are sought. We need to consider the implicit contract between citizens and government agencies when planning for floods, to enable fairer and smoother processes of adaptation."
-end-
The paper is published on 25 November 2012 as Adger, W. N., Quinn, T., Lorenzoni, I., Murphy, C. and Sweeney, J. (2012) Changing social contracts in climate change adaptation. Nature Climate Change 10.1038/nclimate1751.

About the University of Exeter

The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13, the University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 18,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Sunday Times University Guide, 10th in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012 and 10th in the Guardian University Guide. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 90% of the University's research was rated as being at internationally recognised levels and 16 of its 31 subjects are ranked in the top 10, with 27 subjects ranked in the top 20.

The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses for 2012, including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange in Cornwall - and world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute.

www.exeter.ac.uk

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is an active and expanding partnership between the Universities of East Anglia (headquarters), Cambridge, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Southampton, Sussex, and recently Fudan University in Shanghai. It conducts research on the interdisciplinary aspects of climate change and is committed to promote informed and effective dialogue across society about the options to manage our future climate. www.tyndall.ac.uk

NUI Maynooth

While formally established as an autonomous university in 1997, NUI Maynooth traces its origins to the foundation of the Royal College of St.Patrick in 1795, so that while in one sense it is Ireland's newest university, it draws strength from a heritage that includes over 200 years of commitment to education and scholarship. NUI Maynooth is today a university of international standing, renowned for the quality and value of its research and scholarship, for its dedication to excellent teaching, and for providing an outstanding learning environment for its students. Today, the University is a place of lively contrasts, combining the peaceful and historic beauty of fine eighteenth century buildings with the dynamism and excitement of modern research and teaching facilities. While much has changed at Maynooth over the past two centuries, the University's commitment to scholarship and learning remains central to its mission. The University is home to outstanding academics who have established a strong reputation for research and teaching excellence and has over 8,000 students from more than 20 countries.

NUI Maynooth has important research strengths in climate change, spatial analysis and geocomputation; applied mathematics and applied ICT; immunology and chemical biology; historical and cultural traditions, and business innovation.The University looks outward, engaging with industry and the community to better serve students, the region and the country.

University of Exeter

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