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Natural hazard risk in Asia-Pac 16 times more than in North America, Europe, says UN-ESCAP

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on October 28, 2021

‘Climate risk outpacing resilience measures’

A person in the Asia-Pacific region is four times more at risk of natural hazards than a person in Africa and 16 times more than a counterpart in North America or Europe. The “risk scape” stems not only from inherent natural, biological and environmental hazards of the region but also from socio-economic vulnerabilities and rapid urbanisation, according to Sanjay Srivastava, Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at UN-ESCAP, Bangkok.

In recent years, climate risk is outpacing resilience measures while the root causes of this risk remain unaddressed. Indeed, building resilience is the common thread across all goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Srivastava wrote to BusinessLine.

Building resilience

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30) has marked a paradigm shift from managing disasters to managing risks. The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2015) has been an effort to fundamentally address climate risk by coupling adaptation and mitigation through pathways backed by strong political commitment.

In this context, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) next month (November) provides an opportunity to move forward, notes Srivastava. “Exposure to climate events increases inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, by 0.24 percentage points. Further, a one percentage point rise in exposure to climate hazards increases the under-five mortality rate by 0.3 percentage points and decreases education rates by 0.26 percentage points.”

Climate adaptation costs

ESCAP estimates the total climate adaptation costs for cascading hazards (natural and biological) under an extreme climate change scenario at $270 billion for Asia and the Pacific, which is around 20 per cent of the estimated annualised average loss, he said.

The highest cost as percentage of GDP is recorded in the Pacific small island developing states with 9.1 per cent in Vanuatu and 7.4 per cent in Tonga. Given the specific risk scape in this group of countries, their adaptation priorities include making water resource management resilient and improving dryland agriculture crop production followed by protecting mangroves, strengthening early warning systems and making new infrastructure resilient.

NDCs not ambitious enough

High exposure to drought along with a large share of the employed population working in the agriculture sector is an inescapable attribute of the Vanuatu economy, which is also the case with developing countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan, Srivastava pointed out.

He said that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted in 2015 were collectively not ambitious enough to keep global warming ‘well below’ 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. COP26 is the first test for this ambition-raising function and many expect to see new NDCs ambitious enough to put the world on track for ‘well below’ 2 degrees, preferably to the 1.5 degree-target.

The success of COP26 will be a decisive moment not only in addressing the climate risk but also in breaking the links between poverty, inequality and extreme climate events, especially in developing, least developed and Pacific small island developing States. It’s time to raise climate ambitions to determine how resilient the world would be in 2050, Srivastava said.

Published on October 28, 2021

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