Letter 1 – 14th March 2015
2015 as a pivotal year for global climate risk management?
Rising losses from extreme weather events and growing evidence about climate change provide the backdrop of current international efforts to achieve agreement on emissions reductions and foster greater climate resilience. 2015 has the potential to mark a key milestone in these efforts – with several related policy processes culminating, offering a chance to integrate disaster risk reduction, climate change policy and poverty reduction more closely. At the same time there is a growing risk of further inaction if no political agreement can be found.
The starting gun for those policy events has been fired: From 14th till 18th March the global risk community is gathering in Japan for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). The event is held in Sendai, close to the spot where exactly four years ago the Fukushima disaster unfolded. A sobering thought, and a reminder of the scale of the problem.
Disasters may have natural causes, but what determines the extent of damage and destruction is predominantly our own making: how we assess the risk and what conclusions we draw, what and where we build – all these factors determine our current and future resilience.
WCDRR is part of a series of key policy events that could make 2015 a pivotal year for climate risk management: in September world leaders will gather to establish a new set of global development goals – following on from the so called Millennium Development Goals that provided targets for tracking progress in reducing global poverty. The discussions about those set of new goals are still ongoing, but there are efforts to make climate and disaster resilience an integral part of this – recognizing the potential ‘poverty trap’ that disasters pose for many countries and communities around the world. And later in the year the next round of the UN’s climate change negotiations will take place in Paris, widely considered as an effort to bring together the current binding and non-binding international agreements on climate change into one single regime. Climate risk and how we prepare for them will also on the agenda, as well as discussions about compensation mechanisms for those who suffer losses and damages.
The economic case for climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction is robust: we know how disruptive extreme events can be; we know that climate change is posing a great risk for poverty reduction efforts and economic resilience; we know that acting now is cheaper than waiting; and we know that there are clear opportunities arising from climate compatible growth.
Yet it remains unclear how policy makers will address this. Disaster risk reduction is often not an easy sell, handing out relief after an event is still far more widespread (and often more attractive for politicians) than spending money on prevention measures. In many cases only a fraction of the amount that goes into global relief efforts is spend on pre-disaster mitigation. And this is not just a problem in low-income countries. In Australia for every $10 spent on post-disaster recovery only $1 is spent on pre-disaster prevention – and this is rather the norm than an exception.
To address this imbalance more than 5,000 government officials, ministers and leaders from over 160 countries are gathering in Sendai, with thousands of representatives from business, NGOs and universities joining them for this big jamboree. Numerous workshops, discussion forums and information session are being staged, books and reports launched and projects showcased. Good networking, no doubt. But what else can be expected? The main purpose of this gathering is to agree on a new global framework to guide decision makers towards a more disaster-resilient future. This builds on from the Hyogo-Framework for Action (HFA), agreed ten years ago, which has been supporting disaster risk reduction efforts globally, regionally as well as through National platforms. Most delegates heading to Sendai this year expect to come home with a so called ‘post 2015 DRR framework (one can only hope that this will not be the final name…) that would guide decision makers to bring down existing levels of risk and to avoid the creation of new risk. The current negotiation text places a strong emphasis on tackling the underlying drivers of risk such as poverty, climate change, eco-system decline, bad urban planning, land use and risk governance. However, for some the recognition of climate change is not strong enough, others want to see more involvement of the private sector, while a further key issue remains the challenge to convince those in ministries of finance that prevention is a valid strategy, not a sunk cost.
ENHANCE partners are involved in many of the discourses that shape the current search for solutions, and will share insights with delegates in Sendai on topics such as insurance, the role of partnerships, the economic case for DRR, and the importance of risk assessment.
Over the next few days we will provide short ‘letters’ on those topics, pinpointing to the current debate and highlighting relevant new proposals or findings that are discussed here in Sendai.
From UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
Swenja Surminski, Grantham Research Institute, London School of Economics
On Twitter WCDRR
Access all letters here
Official UN WCDRR website http://www.wcdrr.org/home
GAR2015 (Global Assessment Report 2015)