Philipp Schmidt-Thomé: Adapting to changing climate conditions and hazard patterns

Dr. Philipp Schmidt-Thomé’s (GTK) path has taken him across many parts of the world, starting from El Salvador, to Germany, Sudan, Columbia, Chile, Thailand and finally to Finland. On top of running the international operations of Geological Survey of Finland, Philipp has extensive experience as a scientist and project leader in EU level projects in South America and Southeast Asia. This academic year will be his 16th of teaching environmental geology, hazard & risk management for land-use planning and climate change adaptation to SGT students.



Climate change, natural hazards and land-use planning – how do they all connect?

Natural hazards are natural processes that can pose threats to human lives and assets, causing harm, loss or damage. Natural hazards encompass geological hazards (e.g. earthquakes) and hydro-meteorological hazards (e.g. floods). The hydro-meteorological hazards are impacted by climate change, and hazard patterns tend to change. We tend to see stronger storms and a rise in frequency, e.g. of heat waves. Yet we need to understand that a rise in impacts by these hazards is in fact caused by human activities, e.g. settlements in flood prone areas. In order to successfully mitigate the impacts of these hazards a holistic approach is recommended, i.e. understanding natural hazards, human vulnerabilities and resulting risk patterns, as well as climate change impacts.

What are the optimal ways to respond to natural hazard risks through land-use planning?

Worldwide there are both, several positive examples of ongoing land-use planning efforts on how to reduce the risks related to natural hazards, as well as some negative examples. In the course Sustainable Built Environment (Period II) we look at those examples and analyze their pro’s and con’s. For certain the positive examples play a major role, as there is always something to be learned from best practices to implement solutions in other areas. The approach focuses on the communication processes that support decision-making. A key issue is thus what motivates decision-makers, stakeholders and local actors to implement hazard and risk mitigation via land-use planning.

What are some of the most critical measures that need to be undertaken for effective climate change adaptation?

Climate change adaptation grows in importance all the time, as we have proof of changing hazard patterns. Nevertheless it is most important to holistically approach risks, i.e. to focus on all hazard, vulnerability and climate change components together. This may enable developing sustainable, socially acceptable and economically viable legislations, guidelines and mitigation measures. Optimally the implementation of adaptation measures follow the “Nature based Systems” approach.

Climate change adaptation can only be effective if the local people understand the need for the importance of both, investments and space for adaptation measures, and optimally perceive the adaptation as personal benefits.

To learn more about these themes, register to the courses State of the World and Development (Period I) and Sustainable Built Environment (Period II) through

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