Avert­ing dis­as­ter

In­vest in ef­forts to adapt to cli­mate change even while re­duc­ing dis­as­ter risk


In re­cent times, Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­canes in the Caribbean and in the Amer­i­can main­land; record floods across Bangladesh, In­dia and Nepal; and drought emer­gen­cies in 20 coun­tries in Africa have dam­aged these re­gions, killed hun­dreds, and ru­ined the lives of mil­lions. For those coun­tries that are least de­vel­oped, the im­pact of dis­as­ters can strip away liveli­hoods; for de­vel­oped and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, the eco­nomic losses from in­fra­struc­ture alone can be mas­sive; for both, these events re­it­er­ate the need to act on a chang­ing cli­mate, the ef­fects of which have been rev­e­la­tory.

While 4.2 mil­lion peo­ple dy­ing prematurely each year from am­bi­ent pol­lu­tion gets rel­a­tively lit­tle me­dia at­ten­tion, the ef­fect of heat-trap­ping green­house gases on ex­treme weather events is com­ing into sharper fo­cus. It could not be oth­er­wise when the im­pacts of these weather events are so pro­found. Dur­ing the last two years, over 40 mil­lion peo­ple, mainly in coun­tries which con­trib­ute least to global warm­ing, have been forced from their homes by dis­as­ters. There is clear con­sen­sus: ris­ing tem­per­a­tures are in­creas­ing the amount of wa­ter vapour in the at­mos­phere, lead­ing to more in­tense rain­fall and flood­ing in some places, and drought in oth­ers. Some ar­eas ex­pe­ri­ence both. TOPEX/Po­sei­don, the first satel­lite to pre­cisely mea­sure ris­ing sea lev­els, was launched 25 years ago. Those measurements have ob­served a global in­crease of 3.4 mil­lime­ters per year since then; that’s a to­tal of 85 mil­lime­ters over 25 years. Ris­ing and warm­ing seas are con­tribut­ing to the in­ten­sity of trop­i­cal storms world­wide.

Tackle cli­mate change

While the Paris Agree­ment has set the world on a long-term path to­wards a low-car­bon fu­ture, it is a windy path that re­flects prag­ma­tism and re­al­i­ties in each in­di­vid­ual coun­try. Thus, while car­bon emis­sions are ex­pected to drop as coun­tries meet their tar­gets, the im­pacts of cli­mate change may be felt for some time, leav­ing the world with lit­tle choice but to in­vest, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in ef­forts to adapt to cli­mate change and re­duce dis­as­ter risk. This will re­quire in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion. Restor­ing the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance be­tween emis­sions and the nat­u­ral ab­sorp­tive ca­pac­ity of the planet is the long-term goal. It is crit­i­cal to re­mem­ber that the long-term re­duc­tion of emis­sions is the most im­por­tant risk re­duc­tion tac­tic we have, and we must de­liver on that am­bi­tion. The Novem­ber UN Cli­mate Con­fer­ence in Bonn pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to not only ac­cel­er­ate emis­sion re­duc­tions but to also boost the work of en­sur­ing that the man­age­ment of cli­mate risk is in­te­grated into dis­as­ter risk man­age­ment as a whole. Poverty, rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion, poor land use, ecosys­tems de­cline and other risk fac­tors will am­plify the im­pacts of cli­mate change. To­day, on In­ter­na­tional Day for Dis­as­ter Re­duc­tion, we call for them to be ad­dressed in a holis­tic way.

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