A boy sitting on an abandoned boat on what is left of Lake Atescatempa, Guatemala, which has dried up due to drought and high temperatures. This is a drastic reflection of the impact of climate change in Central America. AFP PIC

IT is a simple fact that as we pump record levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are ramping up disaster risk around the globe now and for generations to come.

It goes with the sobering reality of warming and rising seas and changes in the Earth’s systems that are influencing storms, winds and rainfall. The toll this takes on human life, economies and government expenditures will be high on the agenda when world leaders gather in Mexico for the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction this month.

Figures show that disasters — 90 per cent of which are classified as climate-related — cost the world economy US$520 billion (RM2.3 trillion) per year and push 26 million people into poverty every year.

In the 22 years that have passed since Conference of the Parties 1, the first of United Nations Climate Change conferences, we have seen greenhouse gas emissions reach critically high levels which bode ill for those who already live in dry lands, cyclone-exposed coastlines, flood plains, below unstable hillsides or parts of the world dependent on glacier meltwater.

Over that time span, we have also seen a doubling of weather- and climate-related disasters, which can further weaken least developed countries like Haiti, which lost more than 600 lives and around a third of its gross domestic product when it was struck by Hurricane Matthew last October.

Recent estimates show that the bill for Haiti’s recovery from that Category 4 hurricane comes to US$2.8 billion (RM12 billion), an extraordinary sum for a country where 60 per cent of the population live in dire poverty.

The Philippines lost thousands of its citizens, partly due to the slow passage of Typhoon Haiyan across the warming, rising waters of the Pacific Ocean in 2013. And, again, the economic losses and the cost of building back better ran into billions.

Meanwhile, the drylands of the Sahel and southern Africa, already at high risk from rising temperatures, breached the
limits of their capacity to sus-
tain human life adequately in the last 12 months as country after country declared a state of emergency and millions suffered the devastation of hunger and loss of livelihood.

Just five years after the first famine of the 21st century was declared over, Somalia is again on the brink underlining the fact that 80 per cent of the world’s hungry live in countries that are heavily prone to hydro-meteorological disasters.

Climate change, aggravated by phenomena like El Nino, is not the only driver of disaster risk, but is the joker in the pack as the world tries to understand how it combines with other key risk factors such as poor risk governance, rapid and unplanned urbanisation, poverty and environmental degradation.

Much of this understanding and better planning needs to be done now at the local level. Adopting the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction two years ago, UN member states agreed to increase the number of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.

These strategies will be the bedrock for decreasing disaster losses by 2030 through reducing mortality, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure.

It is imperative that we break down silos that exist between the exponents of disaster risk reduction, whose remit extends beyond climate-related hazards, and those whose focus is climate action.

As these national and local plans are put in place, there is an opportunity to ensure joint action across the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, including the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and an obligation to avoid duplication of effort.

The achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to poverty, hunger, climate action, sanitation and clean water, depends on this.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global temperature well below 2°C are the greatest long-term contribution that governments, local governments and the private sector can make to disaster risk reduction.

Meanwhile, local planning for improved disaster risk management helps create a grassroots, societal demand for action and ever rising ambition nationally and globally for climate action above and beyond existing pledges.


United Nations secretary-general’s special representative for Disaster Risk Reduction


Executive secretary of UN
Framework Convention on
Climate Change

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