Thematic Session on climate change and disaster risk reduction - TICAD IV

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction


28 August 2019 - Yokohama, Japan


Ms. Mami Mizutori

SRSG for DRR and Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction


Check against delivery

I can only agree with the Secretary-General that the ultimate contribution UN Members States can make to reducing disaster risk is to limit global warming.

The challenge of doing this becomes greater each year, as we see new records set for global warming and the amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. This is a climate emergency.

I welcome the Secretary-General’s call to climate action and his recognition that sustainability begins with Sendai – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It is impossible to achieve sustainable development without addressing risks, and disaster risk in particular. Sustainable development and the achievement of the SDGs will remain elusive or significantly delayed so long as hazards are left unchecked.

As the Secretary General said, the most vulnerable are worst hit. For developing countries, if disasters strike, they can wipe out 20 per cent of GDP or more. If we are serious about sustainable development, then disaster risk has to be incorporated in development planning and we have a long way to go to do that.

This is not a new suggestion. For years, the international community has called for the need to invest in disaster risk reduction. We have been unable to move away from a vicious cycle of disaster-respond-rebuild-repeat. And development assistance for risk reduction has been highly volatile and dwarfed by financing for disaster response.

How do we change this? Well, as outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, we need to shift from managing disasters to preventing disasters by better managing existing risks.

The first thing we need to understand is that climate change is the major driver of risk, and it amplifies disaster losses. And then, to reduce disaster losses we need to understand where those losses come from in the first place.

A recent analysis of economic losses reported for major disaster events over a twenty-year period from 1998 to 2017 found that 91% of all 7,255 recorded events were climate-related disasters involving significant loss of life. That’s a doubling of extreme weather events compared with the previous twenty years. All of us should be looking at these findings with the terror they deserve.

Worryingly, more than 60% of these events recorded in the EM-DAT global emergency events database, contain no economic data- none whatsoever. This seems an extraordinary oversight.

The situation is particularly acute in low- and middle-income countries in Africa which are suffering the most from climate change and often lack the resources to strengthen their risk governance.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is doing something about this: helping UN Member States to create national disaster loss data bases which establish baselines for measuring progress on reducing disaster losses.

This improved data can then support the mainstreaming of disaster risk and climate risk in investment decision making and support early, pre-emptive action.

UNDRR is also supporting governments to not only know more about their country’s situation but plan better. The Sendai Framework includes a target to have national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction in place by next year. Countries are not on track to do this.

Why is this?

We know very well that governments are working to meet commitments related to three major frameworks: Sendai, the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. This places a huge burden on countries with limited funds and over-stretched civil service.

So what we’ll be saying to UN partners and governments at the Climate Action Summit, is that we think there’s a clear need to bring together disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation and development. All three are interdependent. And just as risk is more and more systemic, so too must our approach be in dealing with it.

And surely, this is what the multi-lateral system is for: to bring coherence and coordination to crowded spaces

For many low- and middle-income countries particularly, there is a clear incentive to bring together National Climate Action Plans, Nationally Determined Contributions and National DRR strategies. This avoids duplication of effort and reduces pressure on scarce government resources.

If we are asking countries and the private sector to step up to the plate and reduce greenhouse gases, fundamentally examine how and where they make profit, what impact development has on the societies consumed by it, then we- as international actors- must also step up.

We’ve seen how critical this is in the last few months. The SG drew our attention to several examples.

The fact is, that as risk grows, our world is shrinking.

One vivid example from recent weeks is the environmental disaster unfolding in the Amazon rain forest where the man-made destruction of the habitat is having dire consequences on our capacity to capture carbon and release oxygen - globally.

We must mirror the interconnectedness of our global natural environmental with an interconnected response.

Part of the process of adapting to future climate scenarios, requires progress in several other areas including eradication of poverty, investing in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and engaging civil society fully in these efforts. It is especially important to engage those segments of the population whose needs are often overlooked and so making them even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The urgency is evident, self-explanatory and undeniable. It demands much greater ambition around the speed and magnitude of the changes the global community needs to make; changes that must be proportionate to the scale of threat.

It would be easy to despair, but I believe the UN Climate Action Summit call to action: a race we must win, a race we can win, has got it right.

Country & Region