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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  26 Feb 2020

26 Feb 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal NHESS and is expected to appear here in due course.

Anthropogenic climate change and glacier lake outburst flood risk: local and global drivers and responsibilities for the case of Lake Palcacocha, Peru

Christian Huggel1, Mark Carey2, Adam Emmer3, Holger Frey1, Noah Walker-Crawford4, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer5 Christian Huggel et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Robert D. Clark Honors College and Environmental Studies Program, University of Oregon, USA
  • 3The Czech Academy of Science, Global Change Research Institute, 603 00 Brno, Czech Republic
  • 4Department of Social Anthropology, Manchester University, UK
  • 5Environmental Humanities; Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Abstract. Evidence of observed negative impacts on natural and human systems from anthropogenic climate change is increasing. However, human systems in particular are dynamic and influenced by multiple drivers, and hence identifying an anthropogenic climate signal is challenging.

Here we analyze the case of lake Palcacocha in the Andes of Peru which offers a representative model for other glacier lakes and related risks around the world because it features a dynamic evolution of flood risk driven by physical and socio-economic factors and processes. Furthermore, it is the object of a prominent climate litigation case where a local Peruvian citizen sued a large German energy producer over risk of flooding from lake Palcacocha.

Adopting a conceptual model of cascading impacts and multiple drivers of risk we first study climatic and other geophysical drivers of flood risk. We find that an anthropogenic signal related to greenhouse gas emissions is traceable. In parallel, flood risk has been strongly shaped (and increased) by interacting socio-economic, institutional and cultural processes over the past decades.

The case raises important questions of responsibility for flood risk of global and local agents which, however, are difficult to address in cases like Palcacocha where we reveal a complex network of interlinked global, national and local drivers. Following from this we outline a normative framework with a differentiated perspective on responsibility, implying that global emitters commit to support strengthening capacities in affected regions and localities, and local institutions and societies engage in local risk reduction measures and policies.

Christian Huggel et al.

Christian Huggel et al.

Christian Huggel et al.


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Latest update: 11 Aug 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
There is increasing interest and need to analyze the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to negative impacts of climate change. We study the case of glacial lake Palcacocha in Peru which poses important flood risk to the city of Huaraz. We found that greenhouse gas emissions, strong urbanization processes without appropriate land-use planning as well as social, cultural, political and institutional factors all contribute to the existing flood risk.
There is increasing interest and need to analyze the contribution of anthropogenic climate...