5 October 2012

Africa: Climate Conversations - Preparation, Better Information Key As Climate Shifts Intensify

Photo: Greenpeace International
Protesters at the Global Day of Action in Copenhagen (file photo).

Jan Egeland, deputy executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on Friday in Bangkok that the world can prevent the loss of millions of lives from climate disasters by ensuring information on climate change reaches the most vulnerable people.

"There is an enormous disconnect between the thousands and thousands of scientists who know more and more about what's happening and can predict more and more... and those who need to know: the farmers, the health workers, the vulnerable communities" said Egeland, who co-chairs an international taskforce set up to compile and make available climate information.

"If we are not able to help the one to two billion people ... that are really unprepared (for climate change)... we will see again an increasing number of lives lost in disasters and we'll see more and more countries locked in poverty. That's what at stake," said the outspoken former U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

Rich parts of the world are well supplied with information on climate impacts while the poor, most disaster-prone regions are not, said Egeland at a lecture organised by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre.

Because of disparities in things like the numbers and capacities of weather stations, "those who caused climate change and who are last and least hit get all the information to become more robust for the consequences (of climate change)," said Egeland.

Meanwhile, "those who didn't cause the climate change because they had no economy to produce greenhouse gases, they are hit first and hardest and they do not have information to adapt themselves to what will hit them," he added.

While the world in general is now enjoying more education, better health, longer life expectancy and less child mortality, it has "never been more unjust in terms of distance between the richest and the poorest on earth," he told the audience of journalists, diplomats, U.N. staff and civil society.

"Climate change is already having a tremendous effect. Already it's creating death, destruction, misery (and) displacement massively among the most vulnerable," he said.


In the 1960s and 70s, there were only about 100 disasters a year around the world, but in recent years the total has drawn closer to 500 a year, Egeland said.

Extreme weather is partly to blame but an explosion in population - the world's population is expected to triple in his lifetime, Egeland said - also means there are more people vulnerable to disasters.

Reducing the toll from disasters means focusing on reducing disaster risk, he said.

"We know that science-based risk prevention and responses saves lives and property," said Egeland.

During his years working at the UN, "we spent 10 times more money when we came in with emergency relief after a natural disaster than we did when we pre-planned through disaster preparedness and prevention," he said.

That means "better plant some mangrove forests in Vietnam than send a lot of food to those who are hit by typhoons," he added, referring to the ability of coastal mangrove forests to buffer storm surges.

Governments and civil society have become better at reducing the death toll from disasters, he said, but economic losses from disasters are mounting and many poor nations are being kept in poverty as a result.

For that to change, "we need better decision-making on the basis of better information," he said.

Egeland said efforts to built a new global pact to mitigate climate change aren't going well because many groups of countries fail to cooperate.

That will have enormous impact, he said.

"The consequences will be felt all over the world. We're just continuing to dump garbage out into the atmosphere, and more and more countries are doing it," he said.

With little prospect for emissions reductions ahead as "we wait for more leadership (and) we wait for more realism," there is one thing that can be done, he said: "Help the most vulnerable to help defend themselves better."

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