By Sophie Hares
CANCUN, Mexico, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Businesses are quickly grasping the benefits of investing to cut disaster risks, so it is crucial for governments to work with them to protect people from climate change impacts, said the head of the U.N.'s disaster risk agency.
In an interview at the start of a major U.N. conference in the Mexican resort of Cancun, Robert Glasser cautioned that while the concept of addressing disaster risk was becoming mainstream, rapidly tackling climate change remained the overwhelming challenge.
The "single most urgent" disaster risk measure was to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, and failure to do so would make any risk reduction strategies futile, said Glasser, chief of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
"If we have runaway warming at three to four degrees, everything else we do to reduce disaster risk will be overwhelmed by rising seas, intensifying storms, flooding, drought, food insecurity, people movements and conflict," he said.
As governments try to protect people from erratic weather, Glasser called on them to coordinate closely with the private sector, which contributes the bulk of funds for infrastructure development and understands the need to protect - and grow - their investments.
"They're fully interested and engaged, they see the benefits. There's a very strong business case - the return on investment is huge - to get it right. It's increasingly important with climate change and other developments."
Incorporating disaster and climate risk has become core for business, rather than just a humanitarian gesture, Glasser said.
He noted that the private sector could play a key role in helping countries reach the ambitious targets of the U.N.-backed, 15-year global strategy known as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Pointing to how the 2011 tsunami in Japan disrupted the global car industry, Glasser said companies are now aware of how hazards could affect their operations and of the need to secure their supply chains.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction from May 24 to 26 in Cancun is the first major meeting since the Sendai framework was hammered out in Japan in 2015, setting goals for governments to cut deaths and economic losses from disasters by 2030.
The seven Sendai targets include limiting damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and public disaster risk information.
The U.N. has called on governments to spend at least 1 percent of development aid by 2020 on disaster preparation.
Over the past decade there has been "an enormous sea change" in increased awareness of the need for disaster risk reduction, with progress in legislation, building codes and evacuation procedures, Glasser said.
He urged countries to establish baselines and databases so they can measure progress towards reducing the loss of life and economic costs of disaster, and assess future costs.
"We don't say spend more money on DRR. We do say make sure you understand the costs of disasters, and you make your own decisions," Glasser said.
Natural and man-made disasters in 2016 killed an estimated 11,000 people and resulted in $175 billion in economic losses, according to reinsurer Swiss Re. Hurricane Matthew was the year's deadliest natural catastrophe, claiming more than 700 lives, mostly in Haiti.
Glasser said the Cancun conference is expected to help countries refine disaster risk reduction targets ahead of a 2020 deadline to have local and national strategies in place.
(Reporting by Sophie Hares, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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