New era of climate resilience begins

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2015 - 9:00am

After almost two weeks, the final version of the new global agreement on climate change was finally reached and forged at the United Nations (UN)-led conference held at Le Bourget in Paris, France. Called the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), negotiators from 195 countries crafted this landmark pact that is designed to help forestall, if not totally prevent from happening the feared doomsday scenarios on global warming.

The COP21 was originally scheduled from November 30 to December 11 to, among other things, come up with agreed measures at reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil-driven economies. A report by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) stated that 6,457 major weather-related disasters have been recorded worldwide over the last 20 years, resulting in 606,000 lives lost, and affecting 4.1 billion people.

Jerry Velasquez, the highest ranking Filipino national in the top hierarchy of the UNISDR, attended the COP21 negotiations as the Chief Advocacy and Outreach. Velasquez has been in the frontline for this UN specialized agency for climate change issues to bring together all nations to work together to save Mother Earth from extinction.

He emailed his observations and thoughts on COP21’s proud output: the new global agreement on climate change. Reprinted verbatim below are the personal views of Velasquez and do not represent those of the UNISDR:

“It was like one of (Apple Computer’s former CEO) Steve Jobs keynote speeches after all the products have been announced, where he will pause, smile and then say ‘...there is one last thing...’

“Gone is the responsive approach in the loss and damage agenda. It’s now replaced by a comprehensive disaster risk management approach. From focusing mainly on insurance to a suite of initiatives ranging from early warning, comprehensive risk assessment and management, preparedness, risk insurance, and building community resilience.

“While the previous iteration of the draft read like a person waiting to get sick and die, and then get compensated to buy a shiny casket, the new version read like a person that regularly goes to the doctor for check ups and eats a balanced diet and exercises to keep healthy!

“In addition the preamble now takes note of the Sendai Framework, finally recognising the shift in thinking from reducing climate disaster losses, to minimising climate disaster risks – making sure that the scale of the disaster itself is reduced and not just its impacts.

“That’s good, but what will these actually mean?

“In the short term it will bring together the disaster risk management and climate communities in a more formal setting. While in the past planning for adaptation and risk reduction were created separately, these will now likely be created jointly.

“This will allow local governments for example, to develop local plans to strengthen roads and riverbanks and protect watershed based on what combination works best in terms of reducing impacts, resources available or importance of the project. Tools and guidance on community based action – be it vulnerability and adaptation or risk assessment or management – will likely also be joined up.

“This will allow for the combination of analysis of historical patterns of local disaster impacts and the learning of what was done in each of those events to prepare better for future events. For example, where in the past we would create damage and loss databases of disasters and analyse them based on these impacts, we would likely add the actions and learning made from these disasters in our future analysis to improve adaptive learning.

“Building code reviews, usually done in the past based on the most recent impact of a disaster event, will now likely be made based also on future projections of change of wind speeds or height of storm surges.

“Insurance mechanisms will also likely change so that it also builds resilience and reduces risks. For example, risk data used to calculate premiums maybe required to become public goods – to assist in risk understanding, and risk reduction planning.

“The strange thing is that many of the above are already happening, but mostly in dark alleyways of so-called ‘pilot activities.’ What the Paris Agreement will do is to make these activities formal and proper guidance developed for their use, with technical and financial resources made available to bring them to scale.

“In the long term as the pressure increases for countries to deliver on their national actions towards the global goal of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degree Celsius, then the more urgent it will become to reduce risks in order to minimise damage and losses.

“The Paris Agreement as it stands still has not agreed on a binding compensation package for damage and losses. With the bill large enough to assist developing countries reduce their emissions, there will be little left to pay for compensation for exponentially growing damage and losses from future disasters.

“This will likely create a rethinking of where priorities should be placed, as it will soon become clear that funding prevention rather than compensation would be more cost effective. Soon many will realise that prevention will be several orders cheaper than compensation with similar or better results – measurable in terms of avoided impacts.

“The Paris Agreement is not perfect, but it is the only blueprint we now have for saving the planet and we along with it. For us in the disaster risk reduction community, we are now called to do our share and we should not fail to deliver.”

For a country that is visited by an average of 20 typhoons each year, the Philippines could only hope this Paris Agreement ushers in a new era of climate resilience awareness, especially to whoever becomes our new President who takes over on June 30 next year.


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