Why is the new disaster framework sidestepping climate change?

by Harjeet Singh | https://twitter.com/harjeet11 | ActionAid International- India
Friday, 13 March 2015 12:32 GMT

A woman looks on as Mount Sinabung spews ash, as pictured from Sibintun village in Karo district, Indonesia's north Sumatra province November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Roni Bintang

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With its increasingly devastating impacts, climate change needs a key part in a new global disaster pact

2015 can prove to be a defining year for all three legs of the sustainable development tripod: social, economic and environmental. The global community is working overtime to get agreements on climate change, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) this year.

The first one on the list is DRR - the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) that will be agreed at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) to be held from 14 to 18th March at Sendai, Japan.

After several months of intensive consultations at various levels and negotiations between governments, a draft document was prepared on 28th January. Governments around the world are yet to agree to it in totality and the negotiations will resume in Sendai, albeit at the ministerial level.

While the sticky points are agreement around targets, finance and support from the developed to developing countries, I would like to draw attention to three equally important issues that have been ignored in the current text.

THE PUZZLING SILENCE

What puzzles me is the reluctance with which the current draft document deals with the issue of climate change and its increasingly devastating impacts.

A recent report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) quoted EM-DAT on how frequency of geophysical disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and mass movements) remained broadly constant over the last 20 years. But since 2000, there has been an average of 341 climate-related disasters per annum, up 44 percent from the 1994-2000 average and well over twice the level in 1980-1989.

According to NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), 2014 was the warmest year on record. The current trend of emission reductions are already pointing towards a world with the average 6 degree temperature rise by 2050.

The extreme and erratic weather events that we are already witnessing in today's world with less than 1 degree temperature rise, has already overwhelmed the capacity to cope of many societies and countries. Poor and vulnerable people, especially women, are unable to deal with and recover from the increasing intensity and frequency of such climatic shocks and stresses.

 Yet, the current draft the framework document gives no reference to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the grim future predictions it presented in its widely publicized 5th Assessment Report.

NEW RISKS AND CHALLENGES

The challenges of sea level rise, ocean acidification, salinization, and loss of biodiversity are all described as slow-onset events. The current draft does not even introduce the new risks and challenges which climate induced slow-onset events pose.

At the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the issue falls under the ambit of climate induced 'loss and damage', which has been one of the most contentious issues in the recent rounds of negotiations. The newly formed Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) has included slow onset disasters as one of the eight areas of work in its 2-year work plan.

I am not suggesting that we import the entire politics around loss and damage into the DRR discussions but the new framework that is slated to remain in operation for the next 15 years cannot afford to ignore an issue which is no longer a problem of tomorrow but has already become a reality of today.

It is important that UNISDR recognises the work done by the UNFCCC and works together, along with governments, civil society and academia in enhancing knowledge around slow-onset events and prepares itself in advance to tackle it in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner.

CLIMATE SCENARIO-BASED PLANNING

There is enough evidence that disasters will not follow a linear trend in the future. The draft document does make a passing reference to climate scenarios and new risks but it fails to explicitly mention the commonality and dissimilarities between DRR and climate adaptation and how in certain situations the limits to DRR/adaptation may be reached.

There is a compelling need to develop our strategies keeping in view the rising temperature levels and their impact on people, economies and ecosystems. We need a dramatic shift towards scenario-based planning and actions that will require further strengthening of planning systems at all levels, particularly at the local level, as well as building flexibility and providing resources to deal with uncertainties.

 If the UNFCCC has the potential to generate resources (whether new and additional is a matter of debate!) through its Green Climate Fund or other sources for adaptation, UNISDR has the experience. It has been working closely with people who have their boots in the mud.

I strongly believe adaptation stands on the feet of disaster risk reduction experience so both the UN institutions and practitioner communities must bring the two together to act in unison and compliment each other's work to create a safe and sustainable world.