Natural disaster reduction agreement a ‘disappointment’

Damage in Vanuatu from Cyclone Pam. [European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr]

International negotiations on disaster risk reduction ended on Wednesday 18 March with a disappointing agreement, despite the recent drama in Vanuatu. Some have seen this as a bad omen for this year’s UN climate negotiations. EURACTIV France reports

Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on 13 and 14 March, did not act as the wake-up call many in the international community had hoped it would become, despite coinciding with the start of the international disaster risk reduction conference in Japan.

The 186 national delegations that met in Sendai from 14 to 18 March failed to come up with an ambitious agreement for a new risk reduction plan for natural disasters, to cover 2015 to 2030. The new objectives were intended to take over from the Hyogo Framework for Action, which expired this year.

“Mixed results”

Laurent Fabius, France’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, told French MPs on 19 March that “the results are mixed: on the one hand a new action framework has been defined, but on the other hand, the clarification of terms, particularly on the financial side, left many delegations disappointed. We must learn the lessons ahead of the COP 21”.

>> Read: France helps Fiji with COP 21 contribution

Among the seven global targets identified at the conference is the objective to “substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services”, as well as to “substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030”. Another priority under the new framework is to increase the number of countries with their own disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020. The text places great emphasis on the need to improve the availability of and access to early warning systems for various risks.

Aurélie Ceinos, head of climate change for the NGO CARE France, said she was disappointed that “the agreement does not mention the means that will finance the efforts to reduce the risks from natural disasters. Today, only 0.4% of international aid is dedicated to these policies. That is not enough”.

Natural disasters on the rise

If there is one thing that everyone agrees upon, it is that natural disasters are increasing in both frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.

According to a report by Oxfam, the data available since 1980 shows a 233% rise in natural disasters resulting from the climate, like droughts, floods, cyclones and fires.

The consequences of this rise are unprecedented: Since 2009, climate catastrophes have affected over 650 million people and left at least 112,000 dead. In this time they have also caused close to €500 billion dollars’ worth of damage, three times the cost of all the natural disasters in the 1970s.

“With disasters becoming more common and frequent with an ever changing climate, ‘planning for the worst’ must assume a central role in development,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

First major climate conference

The uninspiring result of the Sendai conference is all the more regrettable, as it was the first major international climate conference of the 2015 programme, which will end with the COP 21 in Paris this December.

>> Read our Special Report: Climate Change: the Road to Paris

“The year ahead offers a unique opportunity to take this momentum to the next level – starting here in Sendai, and later in Addis Ababa and Paris. Through these defining development and climate negotiations, we can ensure that resilience is fully integrated in the post-2015 development framework,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President.

Persistent divisions

Sources close to Annick Girardin, French Secretary of State for developing countries, said that negotiations were made difficult by divisions between industrialised countries that “do not always take the issues seriously” and developing countries like “India, Brazil or Cuba, which have taken a very hard line on the responsibility principle”.

>> Read: COP 21 national contributions behind schedule, France warns

The source added that “Sendai felt like a step backwards, in spite of the Vanuatu wake-up call.”

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012. Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December. 

Subscribe to our newsletters