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Urgency, ambition, political commitment, and follow-through: A high-level dialogue on strengthening disaster and climate risk governance

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The 7th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) is taking place at a critical juncture in our planet’s history.

A lived experience of climate disruptions

For children born today, their lived experience will be of climate disruption. They are likely to experience three to four times as many extreme climate events as their grandparents, said Mark Howden, Director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University, speaking at a GPDRR High-Level Dialogue on ‘Strengthening disaster and climate risk governance at national and local levels for accelerated progress on SDGs’ on 25 May 2022.

Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action and Assistant Secretary-General for the Climate Action Team, noted that these impacts would be unevenly distributed.

“If you are living in Central or South America; in Central, East, or West Africa; in South Asia; or in a small island developing state, you are 15 times more likely to die in a climate impact.”

Despite this, he pointed out, only 20 to 25% of all climate-related investment is spent on adaptation and resilience.

“We need to pursue reducing emissions and pursue protecting people and safeguarding livelihoods with the same degree of urgency and ambition,” he said.

“We have a moral imperative to protect those that have done least to put us in this situation or to cause the climate crisis.”

Systemic solutions for a systemic problem

“This is a systemic problem which requires systemic solutions,” Howden said. “The impacts of climate change are already being felt across every continent, every island, every ocean, and across every sector.”

The IPCC report, of which Howden is an author, notes an increase in compound, concurrent, cascading, and aggregate events.

A compound event is one where there are “multiple, related climate events happening at one time, that collectively increase the risk” – for example simultaneous heatwaves, droughts and fires, that together have an impact on risk – as Howden explained.

Cascading risks are events where a climate disruption triggers a chain of other climate disruptions.

“In the really huge fires we had in Australia two years ago,” Howden explained, “the fires took out the electricity system. So that took out the banking system, so people couldn’t get hold of their money, and it also took out the petrol distribution system… and it took out the mobile phone communication system… so even if people had petrol in their cars they didn’t know where to drive because they didn’t know where the fires were. That’s cascading risk.”

An example of aggregate risk, which involves separate and independent risks, would be a climate related hazard, like a fire or a cyclone, and COVID-19.

“So when people need to seek refuge, they crowd into a limited space which means they are exposed to the additional risk from COVID.”

The nature of the risks determines the solution, Howden said. “For example, if you have a cascading risk, all you have to do is prevent one link of that cascade, and you can stop it from happening.”

The options to manage climate risks decreases with increased climate change – it is essential to both reduce emissions to slow climate change while adapting and reducing disaster risks.

A systemic solution, Howden noted, relies on political commitment and follow-through.

The political will for a coordinated approach

Other participants at the Dialogue echoed this sentiment. Filimon Manoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, said that the Pacific Resilience Partnership has improved coordination and collaboration in managing disaster risks in the region. Examples include the Disaster Risk Finance Technical Working Group, which provides capacity support around financial protection against disasters; and tools such as the Pacific Resilience Standards.

“Going forward, if we are to do better in the governance of risk, we need to consider a number of important things.” he said.

“First, a shared vision of resilience that is owned by all, and that is backed by political will at the highest level. Second, we must continuously examine our systems so that continuity and sustainability is maintained. Lastly, access to robust and contextualized data is also crucial.”

Natalia Gómez Solano, President of the Costa Rican Youth and Climate Change Network, called for greater inclusion of youth in disaster risk and climate governance.

“For the youth, we ask governments to unify mechanisms, systems and institutions, and to accelerate the SDGs.”

“We know that climate change affects the future of youth and children, which constitutes a really vulnerable group,” she said.

“Our group is asking for solutions as hazards are changing faster than policies and actions. Children and youth are change makers and mobilizers.”

“You have to make friends before you need them”

Jochen Steinhilber, Director General for Displacement, Crisis Prevention and Civil Society of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that integration is a key element of making progress against disaster and climate risks.

“We need to use existing institutions to the best extent possible to avoid any further fragmentation at the global, the national and the local level,” he said.

Germany is committed to using its presidency of the G7 to improve resilience, especially for the most vulnerable.

“Building on the InsuResilience Global Partnership, and efforts to enable faster and better disaster response, and to close the financial protection gap in vulnerable countries, we are mobilizing support under our G7 presidency to work towards a global shield against climate risk.”

Germany has also committed to strengthening anticipatory action, for “more proactive, forward-looking humanitarian assistance.”

“There is growing awareness that pre-arranged finance can enable faster and more effective assistance,” he said.

There is a saying in German, Steinhilber noted: “You have to make friends before you need them.”

“This is the same for finance: When a disaster strikes, pre-arranged solutions ease the burden, they lower the costs, and reduce fiscal impacts.”