Climate change and extreme events

Tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, droughts and floods: in the past decade the frequency and intensity of natural hazards have increased exponentially. Climate change seems to induce disaster by increasing extreme weather conditions and climate hazards and by increasing the vulnerability of communities to natural hazards, particularly through ecosystem degradation, reductions in water and food availability, and changes to livelihoods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that, in the absence of measures to reduce disaster risks, catastrophic consequences are likely to happen. The adverse impact of climate change, and the lack of adaptation measure will lead to more heat waves and droughts in some regions which will likely lead to land degradation, damage to crops or reduced yields, more livestock deaths, and an increased risk of wildfire.

High precipitation in some regions will trigger floods and landslides, with potentially large losses of life and assets. These events will damage agriculture, settlements, commerce and transport and may further increase pressures on urban and rural infrastructure.

Cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes will affect coastal regions, with potentially large additional losses of lives and assets. Climate change slow onset events such as sea-level rise, coupled with coastal storms, will increase the impacts of storm surge and river flooding and damage livelihood systems and protective ecosystems.

 However, natural hazards by themselves do not cause disasters. Disasters emerge when there is a combination of an exposed, vulnerable and poorly prepared population or community to hazard events. Climate change, with other man-made vulnerabilities such as unplanned urban growth and risky investments, will add yet another stress to the environmental degradation, further reducing communities’ abilities to cope with even the existing levels of weather hazards.

The second Preparatory Committee for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction opened yesterday (17-18 November 2014). The negotiation process on the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action will lead to the World Conference on 14-18 March 2015, where the new framework for disaster risk reduction will be adopted. This is a crucial opportunity to include DRR in the post-2015 agenda, in coherence with the SDGs and the climate agreement.

The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, sent a message to all the delegates at the opening of Preparatory Committee, stating the importance of addressing natural disasters and climate change:

Natural hazards and climate risk can take a potentially enormous toll on our societies if countries do not agree on wise, action-oriented measures to save lives, preserve livelihoods and reduce economic losses. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction must take up where the Hyogo Framework for Action leaves off, providing the world with the necessary tools and guidance to reduce risk levels and avoid new dangers. This will be important to our broader development efforts as the world strives next year to adopt a universal climate agreement and a set of sustainable development goals” (Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations)

Why in Lima?

For the fourth consecutive year, annual economic losses have exceeded $100 billion USD due to increased exposure of industrial assets and private property to extreme disaster events. After the experience of disastrous events such the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Great Earthquake of Japan in 2011, the Haiti Earthquake and many others, the necessity of avoiding investment decisions that create new risks and encourage ones that reduce existing risks have been acknowledged. The policy foundations for coherence and mutual reinforcement are well established in various decisions of the UNFCC, which are explicit in regards to the importance of disaster risk reduction. The Cancun Adaptation Framework specifically called for:

Enhancing climate change related disaster risk reduction strategies, taking into consideration the Hyogo Framework for Action, where appropriate, early warning systems, risk assessment and management, and sharing and transfer mechanisms such as insurance, at the local, national, sub-regional and regional levels, as appropriate;”

Governments, communities, businesses, and even households have set course to anticipate hazards and stresses that come with a changing climate and are taking measures to protect people and property. During COP19, the importance of the contribution of adaptation and risk management strategies towards loss and damages associated with climate change impacts was widely recognized. The Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage was established in COP19 with the purpose of promoting the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage, in particular by facilitating provision of overview of best practices, challenges, experiences and lessons learned. The COP20 in Lima it is expected to endorse the establishment of provisions to implement the international mechanism.


Letizia Sozzi is a Columbia University Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution 2015 Candidate. She currently works as a consultant for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and is a COP20 Delegation Member.