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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock remarks at General Assembly side event on Risk-informed early action partnership: scaling up our climate action for communities.’

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Ladies and gentlemen I’m honored to be here today to address this important gathering.

It is a pleasure to join my fellow panelists, Richard Clarke, Sigrid Kaag, Mama Mizutori and Elhadj As Sy, each of whom bring important insight to this issue.

I want to first congratulate IFRC and World Bank on the Cost of Doing Nothing report. It spells out the unique ‘double threat’ that climate change poses to vulnerable communities, and lays out a succinct action plan for how we must respond. I urge all here to read it.

The launch of the Risk-Informed Early Action Partnership is a timely endeavor that can and must build support to accelerate our progress on early and anticipatory action.

Climate change is moving faster than we are. It is already causing more frequent, prolonged and intense extreme weather events around the world. And it is the poorest, most vulnerable and most exposed who suffer the worst.

The number of climate-related disasters has doubled over the past 20 years compared to the two decades prior to that, with on average 329 climate related events per year.

More than half of the 20 countries considered to be most at-risk of climate change also ran inter-agency humanitarian appeals for the past seven years in succession. I just returned from the Horn of Africa, where the chance of drought has increased from one in every seven years to one in every two and half years. This is leaving people in a near-constant state of climate stress, and struggling to recover between shocks. In Somalia, one of the worst-affected countries, farmers and herders are suffering from the impact of two failed rains in succession.

Just two years ago drought brought these same communities to the brink of famine.

A few days prior to my mission, I was in the Bahamas where I saw the devastation wrought from the strongest and longest hurricane that island has ever seen. The storm hovered, bringing wave after wave of destruction.

Earlier this year, Cyclones Idai and Kenneth brought a path of death and destruction across a great swathe of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, displacing over a quarter of a million people.

In the shadows of these storms, and receiving far less international attention, Malawi and Zimbabwe were already struggling with droughts brought about by erratic rains that had decimated much of their annual harvest. So, the region faced an emergency on top of an emergency.

The people who are in the path of these disasters know all too well the damage and human suffering they bring.

Lives lost. Growing displacement. Ruined harvests. The death of entire livestock herds. Intensified competition over access to pasture, land and water. Children pulled out of school. Food insecurity and malnutrition. And proud families forced to live on handouts.

Every year 20 to 25 million people are displaced within their country due to extreme weather events often linked to climate change. And the World Bank estimates that by 2050 there could be more than 143 million internal climate migrants across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

Women are often particularly vulnerable. While they make up half of the agricultural labour in the developing world, they have far less access to land ownership, seeds, tools and information needed to adapt to climate change.

Women – and youth – must be part of any solutions and be empowered to take on their rightful roles as advocates and decision-makers.

Failure to address climate change has enormous implications both for humanitarian suffering but also for progress against the Sustainable Development Goals. Failure to act is simply not an option.

So, what can be done? I suggest three concrete measures.

First and foremost, we need to see global leadership take charge of this issue. Leaders must grab their last chance to avert a climate catastrophe by meeting the Paris emissions target.

Second, we need to see far more investment in adaptation and resilience-building so that communities and institutions can withstand future shocks and keep hard-won development gains.

This requires a collective response, with the private sector, governments, development partners, International Financial Institutions and humanitarians working to together to drive investment where it’s needed most. That means putting the most vulnerable at the center and ensuring that the different needs of women and men, girls and boys are addressed

For humanitarians, this will require more flexible funding streams so that we can move beyond one-year planning.

Third, we need a far greater focus on crisis mitigation and disaster risk reduction. This is where the humanitarian sector has a key role to play.

The humanitarian system saves and protects tens of millions of lives every year. But climate change will continue to make our humanitarian work increasingly hard, unpredictable and complex, affecting more people and requiring more resources than in previous decades. Humanitarians will struggle to keep up with the pace.

So, we need to become better at anticipating crises and acting quickly to prepare or prevent them. Flexible financing mechanisms can help us scale up or down and keep financing swift and flexible.

There is mounting evidence to show how acting early saves lives, reduces suffering, supports better programme planning and design, and massively cuts costs. The IFRC’s Cost of doing nothing further strengthens this case.

Preventing disasters from occurring also gives a good return on investment. The UN predicts that investments of US $6 billion for disaster risk reduction over the next 15 years would result in benefits of $360 billion in terms of avoided losses over the lifetime of the investment. That is a good return on investment – especially in terms of lives saved and lives improved.

Last year at the GA, we co-launched the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM) with the World Bank. This makes financing more predictable and strategic by linking, for the first time, food insecurity early warning with pre-arranged financing to ensure that funds are released before a crisis emerges. That means we can take preventative action and mitigate the impact of climate events.
In close collaboration with the World Bank, in Somalia OCHA is building up the role of the Central Emergency Response Fund to develop a crisis risk financing mechanism based on the forecast of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

When a drought is predicted to significantly increase humanitarian needs, funds are released to distribute drought-tolerant seeds for farmers and fodder for livestock. The funding also supports vaccination programmes to keep animals healthy, rehabilitation of water points, and cash transfer to stabilize people’s purchasing power.

Humanitarian partners are already running their own anticipatory models and have much learning to share. IFRC is leading the way in developing a forecast-based financing methodology and the Start Network's Anticipation Window has now been activated 140 times to provide early action funding to front line NGOs.

In the Philippines earlier this year, Oxfam, Plan International, Global Parametrics and partners launched the pilot B-Ready Program, which distributes debit cards before typhoons make landfall. It is based on early warning so that families fleeing to safety, can buy emergency supplies shore up their houses, and take other steps to strengthen resilience.

As we expand these approaches, we will work closely with climate scientists and data specialists to improve our ability to project seasonal climate outlooks on the most vulnerable.

We must use this prevention lens to address the complex interlinkages between climate change and conflict so that we can do a better job of identifying and stemming rising tensions. And then improve our ability to help communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change in situations of conflict.

We also need to see a scaling up of risk transfer mechanisms such as insurance and parametric financing to strengthen the financial resilience of at-risk countries, providing them with the pre-arranged mechanisms to respond early to climate or disaster shocks.

In response to the devastating Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas today for instance, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility paid out $11 million to the government for recovery efforts. The facility covers cyclones, earthquakes and excess rainfall events, and has just expanded its clientele to include fishing communities whose livelihoods can be devastated in a disaster event.

The Africa Risk Capacity is expanding its coverage to include river floods and tropical cyclones. This month it disbursed $22 million to the Government of Senegal in response to the current drought, and for the first time, included a replica payout to the START Network to support their response efforts.

We are now in a good position to identify models with the most promise and potential for replication and scale-up.
Finally, we must recognize that we each bear responsibility for climate change and we each have a role to play to contain it.

Humanitarians can make a start by putting our own houses in order, by taking steps to limit our own environmental and climate footprint to ensure that we do not further contribute to the deterioration of the environment.

As the IFRC’s report states so simply: “While there is a clear cost of doing nothing, there is also a chance to do something.”

Let’s take it.

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