COP and Sendai: Towards an Integrated Approach

2015 has been a formative year for climate change and disaster management efforts. The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction was adopted this year, and it culminates with COP 21 - which aims to attain a global climate agreement.

The UN World Conference on Disaster risk reduction took place in Sendai, Japan last March, which brought together government and civil society representatives from around the globe to discuss ways to achieve sustainable development by managing disaster and climate risks better. And UNFCCC's 21st International Conference of Parties (COP 21) is currently taking place in Paris with the aim of reaching a binding agreement for reducing emissions and keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees.

It was only appropriate that these two events took place on the same year, as climate change and disaster risk are indispensably linked. A recent UNISDR study shows 90% of natural disasters are weather related. Climate change is exacerbating disasters - as evidenced by more frequent and intense climatic events such as floods, cyclones and droughts in vulnerable regions.

"It is important to bring the disaster agenda with the climate change agenda going forward," said Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the UK Met Office. "Forewarned is better than forearmed," she said, adding that while prediction may not be possible, preparedness such as early warning can go a long way in improving resilience to disasters. She highlighted the importance of access to better information in the context of increasing frequency and intensity of disasters due to climate change.

"Climate change is an issue that is very much a part and parcel of the Sendai Framework," said Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, which is facing unprecedented floods, inundation and salt water intrusion. The islands on average are about 2 meters above sea level and many of the communities have to change their way of life to adapt. "Our experience this year with cyclone Pam represented that the most devastating risks would be from the changing weather patterns," he said. "We don't want to be duplicating the processes at Sendai and Paris, we want to make them as effective as possible".

To be effective in reducing the risks from disasters and climate change, inter-ministerial cooperation is required, according to Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Minister of Environment of Peru and the president of COP 20. "We are used to organize our public agencies by sectors in an isolated way," he says, "but we need a cross cutting way of governance to strengthen our government's ability to reduce disaster and climate change risks."

Abdullah Majeed, Minister of Environment and Energy, Maldives, stressed the importance of public funding for strong preparedness. "Disasters and climate change need to become priorities not just for disaster management and environment ministries, but for finance ministries as well," he says.

Given the scale of climate change impacts and disasters, efforts from the government or development organizations alone are no longer adequate. "National efforts need to be augmented by regional cooperation," says Majeed. His nation Maldives is in the Asia Pacific which is the most disaster prone region of the world and has faced over USD 200 billion worth of damage from disasters. The IPCC in its last two assessment reports have said that the poorest of the poor will be worst affected by climate change. Most small island developing states such as Maldives lack the capacity to address the disasters they are facing and are in dire need of international assistance and regional support.

"We agreed on 7 global targets [for disaster risk reduction] to be achieved by 2030 to reduce the impact of disasters. One of the targets is ready to be achieved by 2020," said Margarita Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for disaster risk reduction, referring to countries having national and local plans for disaster risk reduction.

With the extensive loss of lives and property brought about natural disasters around the world, Sendai Framework's objectives are crucial to improving disaster preparedness and thus reducing risks in the short term. However, to reduce vulnerability and reach long term sustainable solutions, there needs to be increased focus on integrating disaster preparedness efforts with climate change mitigation and adaptation interventions. Sendai framework has been the first step towards doing so. And a strong agreement in Paris can give the finishing touch.