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Worse extreme weather may bring 'permanent emergencies'

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 15 November 2013 11:17 GMT

A couple of super typhoon Haiyan survivors pose with their names displayed on a tablet in Samar province in central Philippines November 11, 2013. REUTERS/John Javellana

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Failure of countries to act quickly and effectively to limit climate change, combined with a lack of sufficient funding and transfer of technology to help poorer countries adapt to the changes, means losses are growing - expert says

WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Worsening extreme weather around the world, due to a lack of action to curb climate change, means that a growing number of countries will face "permanent emergencies" that hinder development efforts and leave them unable to cope, aid organisation experts warned.
With efforts to cut climate-changing emissions failing and inadequate funds to help particularly vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, the world now faces increasingly serious "losses and damage" from climate change that cannot be dealt with by traditional humanitarian aid, said Harjeet Singh, a disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation expert at ActionAid.
Worsening floods, storms and droughts, as well as sea level rise and desertification are just some of the impacts of climate change.
Case-by-case humanitarian assistantance is not going to work to solve increasingly large-scale or long-term crises, he said at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw. And efforts to help vulnerable places build resilience to disasters and adapt to coming changes are in some cases being overwhelmed by the severity of climate impacts, he added.
The Philippines, for instance, had invested significantly in early warning systems and disaster response, and was able to evacuate more than a million people from the area hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, said Sven Harmeling, head of climate change advocacy for CARE International.
But "the disaster was so strong that they couldn't really prepare for it," he said. "That is one of the real challenges for the future. We will have to invest a lot in adaptation but there will be limits to adaptation, where we see it's not enough."
Climate negotiators agreed last year to establish at this year's Warsaw talks some kind of mechanism to address losses and damage resulting from climate change. Those include the obvious financial losses and losses of lives, but also cultural losses – such as the loss of island nations to sea level rise.
The G77 and China negotiating group of mainly developing countries has pushed hard for such a mechanism at Warsaw. However, wealthier nations – which fear becoming liable for such losses as a result of their higher climate-changing emissions – have resisted, with a leaked U.S. negotiating paper suggesting that the United States planned to block efforts to establish a measure.
Richer nations have countered at the talks that they see loss and damage as part of a continuum of action to deal with climate impacts, and suggested it should be part of already established efforts to fund and support adaptation to climate impacts, avoiding the creation of any new international structure.
The problem is that "adaptation has a limit" and in some cases, "the limit has been crossed", said Sandeep Chamling Rai, a senior advisor for adaptation policy with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In particular, the failure of countries to act quickly and effectively to limit climate change, combined with a lack of sufficient funding and transfer of technology to help poorer countries adapt to the changes, means losses are growing.
"You can hardly find any country in the world that will not have to face these challenges," he said.
Singh noted that climate-vulnerable countries at the talks are being urged to focus on improving their disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts, but that will not be enough.
"We are trying hard, but it’s not really working," he said. "We are just unable to cope."

Harmeling pointed to Pakistan, which suffered three straight years of record flooding in 2010, 2011 and 2012, which resulted in tens of billions of dollars worth of damage, and has left millions of people still unable to rebuild their homes.

Widespread corruption and security issues in Pakistan, and an associated lack of investment, contribute to that country's failures to address its problems, experts say. But extreme weather is making the situation much worse.

More frequent extreme events "can really put countries into such a difficult situation that it's hard to get out of poverty," Harmeling said.

Recently published research into losses and damage from climate change by the United Nations University and the African Climate Policy Center shows that mounting climate impacts in many places are already reducing food production and undermining food security, said Koko Warner, who heads research on environmental migration, social vulnerability and adaptation at the university.

The research was carried out in nine countries including Burkina Faso and Nepal.

"Across all our case studies, people told us they are eating less, leaving out meals. Often parents were cutting down their calories so children could eat more. Women would give their share to other family members," Warner said.

"Loss and damage is already significant," she said, and "some of the impacts on sustainable development may be irreversible".

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