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Climate Explorers

How can we better understand the way climate change is shaping extreme weather events? And how do we foster resilience around the world against these risks by applying modern technological solutions? These questions were at the core of the first edition of the Allianz Climate Risk Research Award.

Several dozen PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers from 18 countries had applied for the award. The jury of six Allianz and external experts shortlisted four applicants to present their research at an award ceremony held on December 1 at the Allianz SE headquarters in Munich.

Allianz initiated the award to help improve society’s capacity to respond to the rising impact of climate change and to deal with associated uncertainties. “For years, we insurers have assessed future risks based on what happened in the past,” Amer Ahmed, the Chief Executive Officer of Allianz Reinsurance, said in his opening address at the ceremony. “Now, climate change is challenging this model. The past is no longer a good guide for the future.”

The finalists’ research spans a range of scientific approaches: from improving crop yield forecasts through a Big Data approach to the ethnographic study of resilience in Indonesian cities. And all want to see their work make a difference to real world issues.

The researchers were grateful for the exchange with representatives from all Allianz departments working on natural catastrophes: “I didn’t realize how much science and data analysis is already happening at insurance companies. There is a really high level of science here already, and I see the direct relation to the work that I am doing,” said finalist Elizabeth Tellman. “It’s great to present your work to an audience that might someday actually apply it in their work,” added finalist and first prize winner Viktor Roezer.

Erwin Nugraha was pleased to see that Allianz is recognizing the importance of societal understanding of resilience. “This award was a wonderful opportunity for me. Not only have I been able to network with the other candidates, I am also taking home ideas that will support the resilience work being done in my home country of Indonesia,” said Erwin.

While it was a competition – the four finalists received monetary awards ranging from 2,000 euros to 7,000 euros – collaboration and cooperation are central to the work. “I can definitely see myself using Elizabeth’s flood model for my crop yield forecast system,” said finalist Bernhard Schauberger. Jury member Dr. Ralf Ludwig, Chair of Geography and Geographical Remote Sensing at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, said: “We need to have an open dialogue on how climate change will impact society in the future, and this is an excellent platform to do so. I hope it continues!” And for Allianz? “We are eager to stay in touch with you all,” Amer Ahmed told the finalists. “Your work is very close to our business and we are eager to keep the conversation going.”

Plans for the next edition of the Allianz Climate Risk Research Award are already underway.

From left: Erwin Nugraha, Bernhard Schauberger, Elizabeth Tellman, and Viktor Roezer

The four finalists for the 2017 Award each had their own approach for a more resilient future.

Bernhard Schauberger, a PhD candidate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research and an exchange researcher at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement in France, developed a new system for forecasting crop yields to improve farmers’ lives around the world. Bernhard’s system includes not one but several models, including input sources from social media. His goal: a publicly available yield forecasting system that can be used by farmers around the world to better assess their risk of losing their crop.

Erwin Nugraha, PhD candidate in the department of geography at Durham University in the UK, is the only social scientist among the finalists. His research looks at what it means to be human in the age of climate change. Erwin focused on cities in his native Indonesia, researching how they can be planned and adapted for a changing climate and what the consequences of urban governance are. Erwin proposed the idea of a ‘climate human’ – someone who has fully embraced the resilience mentality.

Elizabeth Tellman, a PhD candidate at the School of Geographical Science and Urban Planning at Arizona State University, was inspired after living in El Salvador for several years and seeing firsthand the effects of landslides and flooding on poor rural regions. Her goal is to create a global flood detection system with data from multiple satellites using cloud computing and remote sensing techniques. This will allow developing countries in particular to apply better flood mitigation strategies.

Flooding is also at the center of Viktor Roezer’s research. Viktor is pursuing his PhD at the Institute of Earth and Environmental Science in Potsdam. He focuses on pluvial flooding, which means flooding caused by heavy rainfall. Incidentally, this is the type of flooding that recently caused so much damage during Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. His goal is to create a better loss model and early warning systems for areas prone to this type of flooding, again using a wide variety of data input, including data from social media services such as Twitter and Instagram.

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Anja Rechenberg
Allianz SE
Phone: +49 89 3800 4511

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Elizabeth Goetze
Allianz Reinsurance
Phone: +49 89 3800 67348

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