Education does more to reduce deaths from
climate-related disasters than economic growth, a new study finds.
The researchers say education helps reduce vulnerability to
disasters and enhances adaptation to climate change.
It's hard to pin down exactly how much money
developing countries need to adapt to climate change. But
estimates suggest that it could be as much
as $100 billion a year.
Countries have so far
pledged $9 billion to the UN Green Climate
Fund, which will provide money for adaptation and mitigation in
Spending on climate change adaptation tends to
focused on large infrastructure projects,
such as flood defences and irrigation systems. But new research,
Science, suggests that investing in
education could be a better way to reduce vulnerability to
Improving education reduces disaster
The researchers argue that previous studies
have concentrated too heavily on how economic development has
reduced vulnerability to disasters such as floods, droughts and
They point to recent
case studies that show improvements in education
can give people the skills and knowledge to be better prepared for,
and better able to recover from, natural hazards. For example,
better-educated people in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic
faster at responding to hurricane alerts and
recuperated more quickly once one had struck.
The researchers compare the influence economic
growth and education have on the number of deaths from disasters
for 167 countries across the world. They use Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) per person as an indicator of economic growth and the number
of women completing at least secondary school education as an
indicator for education. They then cross-reference these with
of climate-related disasters.
The results suggest that rising GDP has not
reduced the number of deaths from climate-related disasters in the
past four decades, while having a greater number of women in
Better awareness of risk
So how does education reduce vulnerability to
climate-related disasters? In an accompanying press release,
co-author Dr Raya Muttarak explains:
improves knowledge, the ability to understand and process
information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances
socioeconomic status and social capital. These are qualities and
skills useful for surviving and coping with disasters."
Educated people have a better awareness of risk,
the authors argue, and it gives them the knowledge and skills to
This is important because while scientists can
make long-term projections of climate change, year-to-year weather
variations mean they can't say exactly when a disaster will hit and
how severe it will be. So a flexible approach to adaptation gives
people and communities more capacity to cope when a disaster
Projecting future disaster deaths
When the researchers run simulations of future
climate-related disasters, they find a similar pattern: improved
education significantly reduces the number of deaths from
The results are shown in the graph below. The
researchers use two pathways of how global education might change
in the future: rapid expansion (red lines) and limited expansion
(blue lines), which indicate, respectively, either substantial or
minimal investment in education around the world.
The study models each education pathway against three scenarios
of future change in climate-related disasters: no change (solid
line), a 10 per cent increase (dashed line) and a 20 per cent
increase (dotted line).
You can see that for each scenario of
climate-related disasters, the improved education pathway results
in fewer deaths.
The results suggest how "education is key in
reducing disaster fatalities and enhancing adaptive capacity," says
lead author Professor Wolfgang Lutz in the press