2015 will be a busy year for the UN system. Several international processes are culminating, working on different aspects tackling natural disasters and improving resilience of people to climate and other kinds of risks. Extraordinary effort will have to be made to provide vision and coordination among these processes, otherwise political attention will be diluted, stakeholder engagement spread thin, and resources not prudently applied only in the run-up to these major policy milestones, but also in the actual implementation.
Hyogo Framework 2.0: The train has left the station
An early departure was marked in May 2013 at the UNISDR system. The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), a biannual event gathering the status quo of the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The HFA operates on a set of indicators, gauging national and international progress towards several key outcomes.
This year saw a record 3500 participants and government representatives gathered in May 2012. The event marked the beginning to develop a successor arrangement for the existing HFA. “Quo vadis?” is the relevant question, for the development of the next set of international guidelines to facilitate DRR progress. Recently, the chairs have laid out their top messages from the Global Platform. Previous regional and national consultations are also summarized.
The DRR community faces a new set of challenges. While progress in reducing loss of lives and injury following major disaster is measurable and successful, challenges remain which will have to be tackled by any DRR regime over the next 10-20 years. Emerging risks, partly driven by climate change and unparalleled development processes, will have to be effectively addressed: While fatalities have declined notably in many parts of the world, the trends for economic damage are rising steeply up. Preventing knock-on effects, shepherding development advances and livelihood opportunities more generally needs to be at the centre of the next regime. Discouragingly, whereas there has been measurable progress on the overall set of indicators of the HFA, advances in changes in root causes of vulnerability, probably the most important indicator, has been very modest only.
Rising risks including climate change will have to be paradigmatically addressed. While there has been some attempts to better merge discussions especially around DRR efforts and adaptation to climate changes at the global scale – for example the initiative of Norway and the UNISDR in brokering the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX) report – on the practitioner level DRR experts sometimes take a sceptical or normalizing attitude towards climate change. The UNISDR system reflects some practitioner communities – such as civil defense, civil engineering, and humanitarian response – that have traditionally focused on a spectrum of policy and practice interventions like emergency preparedness, more effective planning, retrofitting of infrastructure, evacuation, and improving awareness of natural hazards and how to manage crisis situations. Practitioners commit their professional careers to fight manmade catastrophes. Disaster are not an act of god, but can be overcome through preventive action such as prudent planning, enforcement of building codes and awareness on disaster impacts. In face of existing adaptation deficits, the work on “hypothetical” future changes and vulnerabilities is all too often seen as diverting attention and resources. For many years, disaster risk reduction has featured in climate change discussions on adaptation, and the work of the IPCC SREX facilitated by Norway and the UNISDR helped mainstream many of the central principles of addressing underlying vulnerabilities and proactive risk management. The IPCC SREX focused on extreme climate events, but it extended the discussion beyond emergency “events” and widened the focus to a broader range of risks including slow-onset climate change related phenomena.
The focus of the climate change community on weather related events – as opposed to other catastrophes like earthquakes or tsunamis – is also eyed with suspicion At the same time, the HFA does not cover slow-onset events like sea-level rise, glacial melting etc. and thereby only addresses a limited spectrum of climate risks. Against this backdrop the new HFA will have to actively promote taking climate change seriously as an emerging risk. This has to start with a move away from the institutional compartmentalization between event-specific-oriented DRR and more broader, process-oriented climate change adaptation at the implementation level, but needs to go beyond that.
The Humanitarian System – set to rail towards 2015 too
Recently, another major political summit has been added to the 2015 political calendar. The UN Secretary-General is convening a global Humanitarian Summit in 2015 to take stock, discuss the changing humanitarian landscape, share knowledge and best practices, and set the post-2015 humanitarian agenda. This takes place in light of challenges that the overall humanitarian system faces:
- Systemic pressures: climate change, demographic development, food security – results in increased needs towards the humanitarian system
- Institutional shifts: Generally, the humanitarian system is changing, with more responsibility going to local and national entities, and new donors emerging – this goes together with the need for insuring accountability for recipients/right holders as well as donors/responsibility bearer
- Realignment of funding and needs: Increasing misfit of existing largely pledge based humanitarian system and actual needs, for example an increasing share of populations of concern from fragile states which may not have governance structures that are able (or politically desirable) to absorb and distribute humanitarian assistance. This takes place against the backdrop, however, that increasingly official development assistance or own national resources are spent on crisis management – with a real opportunity cost for development.
- New learning about interventions: Classical interventionist approaches are often too short sighted. The challenge remains how to incorporate humanitarian intervention into broader risk management and resilience building activities.
The World Humanitarian Summit in 2015 is the first of its kind. The humanitarian system is guided by well-established humanitarian principles stemming from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and several General Assembly decisions. However, no time-bound, result-based or legally binding framework has been created yet around the humanitarian system (there is of course treaty-based international humanitarian law, which however is more related to governing conflict of war and does not aim to facilitate the international response itself). It remains an open question what the strategic output of the Humanitarian Summit will be, and how it links in other major processes such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)/Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) debate, the HFA2 or climate policy regime under the UNFCCC.
Climate regime: Green light for 2015 agreement
During the Durban Conference, Parties of the UNFCCC decided to launch a new attempt to agree on an international regime, with legally binding force – applicable to developed and developing countries alike – for the post-2020 time period. The timeline for negotiating this new regime foresees final decision in December 2015 at the Climate Conference in Paris (COP 21) and will be accompanied by decisions that implement climate action also before the end of this decade.
Adaptation to climate change – including elements of risk reduction and management – got already an institutional framework decided at the Cancun Climate Conference in 2010. So far it seems unclear, how adaptation will feature in the new agreement. Clearly, the aspect of adaptation finance will squarely be on the agenda, but further ideas are not yet well developed. Some countries, e.g. the African Group, call for a global adaptation goal in the 2015 agreement. In addition, Parties are still leaving all options on the table how loss and damage – a new policy arena that emerged from the Cancun adaptation agreement – will feature in the 2015 mix. This will also depend on the concrete advances that can be achieved at the upcoming Climate Conference in Poland at the end of this year.
Addressing loss and damage associated to adverse climate change impacts has recently become a policy priority under the UNFCCC. After a foundational decision at the Doha Climate Conference in 2012 agreeing on a set of principles, the roles of the UNFCCC process on loss and damage, as well as initial activities, the next Climate Summit in Warsaw end of 2013 is mandated to decide on the institutional set-up. One matter of consideration in this context will be whether to establish an international mechanism to address the adverse effects of loss and damage. Here the link to the UNISDR system, humanitarian system and the general development discourse, as well as their limitations in the climate change context, is under active discussion.
Sustainable Development and Resilience: How to weather the summit storm in 2015?
2015 will host several high-level summits all around issues related to sustainable development. The biggest show in town for the UN system in 2015 is certainly the set-up of the post-2015 framework for a successor of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). The Millenium Development Goals, a set of actionable targets and goals, corralled the development discourse from 2000 to 2015. Likewise, the post-MDG process is about giving high-level guidance to governments, development agencies, civil society and the private sector in programming their development interventions.
In addition, the Rio Conference 2012 launched another process towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) linking in perspectives of earth boundaries to the discussions. The processes around MDGs and SDGs are believed to be joined together eventually, but for now they run as separate processes. Recently, the “High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda” launched its input into the elaboration of the post-2015 MDG agenda.
It is clear that several processes – HFA 2.0, Humanitarian Summit, and the adaptation and loss and damage leg under the UNFCCC – have overlapping complementary objectives. One of the essential aims is to promote existing and future resilience of all people against a spectrum of hazards and risk factors. While some lament the lack of semantic clarity on what the term “resilience” actually means and how it is to be operationalized, the concept should be enough of a common denominator to join different agenda that in the past have shown difficulties in working together. Against this backdrop it should be applauded, that the high-level group proposes a “resilience” indicator under the poverty alleviation goal. This can provide the broadest guidance through the MDG process, and should push the DRR as well as humanitarian and the adaptation community to formulate their respective contribution. It is highly unlikely that each community on its own can actually get the high-level political attendance that it is striving for.
Same track, or diverging rails?
One expert in a recent event organized by the Government of Norway at the UNISDR Global Platform suggested the UNISDR system to merge with other agenda to work against the apparent fragmenting. This is not necessarily realistic, also because the momentum that has already been created in the different political streams and events. So what could be an actual role-sharing model that brings us closer to climate resilient development?
Facilitate broader discourse on the problem areas in the respective communities, and institutional constraints that contribute to fragmentation.
As a first step, each community should facilitate a self-assessment and critical dialogue, what are the real impediments towards realizing resilience. This includes a revision of institutional and operational constraints of respective institutions, mandates of existing frameworks and existing efforts for coordination.
Work on concrete deliverables, products, frameworks and institutions that input into a broader resilience agenda.
Several processes have resulted in concrete deliverables. The UNISDR system for instance has resulted in the OECD-led Global Earthquake Model, which aims to model world-wide earthquake risks. Likewise, the UNISDR system promotes loss and damage databases and risk models that could be important contributions towards resilience.
Also in terms of processes and frameworks, there needs to be a division of roles. The MDGs/SDGs can set the wider narrative and the overarching vision. UNFCCC for example will have to deliver on the legally binding frameworks that are necessary to curb emissions and provide trust among different member states. Also the realization of national arrangements, e.g. national platforms established as part of the UNISDR system, will have to come from the individual processes.
Provide greater description of how the respective framework can contribute to resilience.
The MDG/SDG process will result in a few overarching goals and indicators. Hence, the respective frameworks and communities of practice will have to fill out the remainder, including indicators for processes to achieve this. The challenge will be how to create a UN log frame – with the individual contributions of the processes to the overall vision towards resilience – that is coherent.
There is again a risk for continuous silo behaviors on the different aspects of resilience with different communities working in similar fields, but driven by a notion of competition, not joining forces. It is a question, how the process towards 2015 will be constructed in a coherent way. Right now the focus is whether and how to join the MDG and SDG process. But also the “smaller” processes will need to work with each other and not against. Doubts exist whether the organizing UN agencies behind the respective process will be in a position to provide this strive for coherence. They are often advocacy organizations for their respective mandates. Coherence will largely have to come from stakeholders contributing into the various negotiation streams.
The UNFCCC is in a different position, because the process is largely driven in a country-based manner also because of its legally binding fashion. As part of the loss and damage discussion emanating from the Cancun Adaptation Framework, Parties have the mandate to decide on an institutional arrangement, for instance in form of a mechanism, at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) end of 2013. The framing of addressing loss and damage provided by the decision at the COP in Doha has plenty of overlaps with the agenda of resilience. The mechanism would explicitly support the established leadership role of the UNFCCC in promoting ways to address loss and damage. One aspect is that of international coordination – and Parties are already exploring different modes between the different regimes. If a coordination function – among other necessary functions – is established, it would be desirable that this is not only looked at from a continuous coordination task between the climate regime, DRR community and the humanitarian system, but also driven by the notion to contribute towards a better system to help people impacted by climate risks and make them resilient.