UN disaster forum must bring transformation for most at-risk people

by Michael Boyland and James Kemsey | Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 17:20 GMT

A woman stands outside a house damaged during Cyclone Kenneth on Ibo island north of Pemba, Mozambique, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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The suffering of thousands upon thousands places an obligation on decision makers to make radical change in development a reality

Michael Boyland and James Kemsey, International Centre of Excellence on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk*

Four years ago, the U.N. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) stated: “Development cannot be protected from itself, and until development itself is transformed, disaster risk will continue to increase.”

But to date, the transformative agenda has made it no further than earnest discussion points in offices of policy makers, company boardrooms and scientific conferences.

This must change now. The scientific evidence calls for it and there are growing signs people are hearing that call.

Days after the IPCC 1.5°C report was released, at a forum on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk, Professor Mark Pelling of King’s College London summed up the IPCC’s key message: “We will be transformed by climate change unless we choose to transform ourselves.”

But more importantly, the suffering of thousands upon thousands places an obligation on decision makers to make development transformation a reality.

The recent cyclones in Mozambique, for example, show that more and more people are in the path of disasters with little or no protection. Climate change will only intensify the damage of these devastating events, and knock-on effects such as poverty and displacement.

At the time of this year’s Global Platform for DRR (GP), transformation is rising on the policy agenda, due in part to scientific evidence and to public pressure.

Communities and individuals are speaking up and acting like never before, as shown by the social movements #FridaysForFuture and Extinction Rebellion, and policy shifts such as the proposed Green New Deal in the US and the UK parliament climate emergency declaration.

The scientific community is also challenging itself to do a better job of representing the people and places affected by disasters and climate change.

This GP is our best opportunity to make the transformation agenda relevant to the DRR community by ensuring the forces linking disasters, climate change and development are acknowledged, clearly explained to all audiences, and lead to alternative pathways for resilience, social equity and sustainable development.

In practice, this means more prioritization of DRR and sustainability over economic growth, implementing resilience measures that address gender and social inequalities, and moving beyond participation to shift more decision-making power to those on the frontline of disasters and climate change.

Progress in Geneva this week requires leaders, civil society and scientists to harness the momentum around tackling climate change and bring DRR into the public domain alongside it. There is a tangible urgency for us all to embody transformation in our work and life – we must be inclusive, creative and bold if ambitious goals are to be realised by 2030.

* The International Centre of Excellence on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk is hosted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), in partnership with the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Programme (IRDR) which is supported by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the International Science Council (ISC).