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FEATURE: the lessons of the IPCC SREX report for South Asia

CDKN’s Elizabeth Colebourn and Amy Kirbyshire report from the New Delhi, India outreach event for the IPCC’s ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX), 2-3 May 2012.

“The IPCC published the SREX. So what? What happens now?” asked one of the participants of the IPCC SREX outreach event in Delhi this week. This blunt question got to the heart of the purpose of the SREX Regional Outreach event series on ‘Managing the Risks of Climate Extremes and Disasters – What can we learn from the IPCC Special Report?’

More than 100 participants from across the South Asia region met in Delhi on 2-3 May to discuss and debate the implications of the SREX for South Asia. The report was two years in the making, and involved 220 expert authors from around the world. As Nita Bhalla of Thompson Reuters said, for the first time we are seeing the science behind disaster risk reduction with this report, but what impact will it have on practice and policy?

Starting the conversation

The IPCC has scored an immediate, obvious success by getting this conversation started. The outreach event sought to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical, the global and the regional. It provided a platform for participants to learn each other’s lessons on climate extremes and disasters. The participants came from different countries and from different fields: science, policy, civil society and the private sector. Their work spanned disaster management, climate change and development.

During the event, IPCC SREX lead authors explained what the report tells us about climate extremes and disasters in South Asia. In return, participants grilled the authors on the reliability of their projections, why certain issues such as gender and children were not addressed by the report, and the extent to which the report tells us anything new (the answer: the IPCC SREX report is a huge compilation of existing science on climate extremes and disasters).  The IPCC SREX report and CDKN’s Regional Summary Reports were acknowledged as being highly relevant and usable, which provide strong justification for greater emphasis on mitigating disasters in the South Asia region. Participants and speakers alike raised the need for even more practical guidance, case studies and pilot projects, to enable stakeholders to better understand how to respond to the report’s findings at regional, national and community levels.

During a ‘Hard Talk’ debate, the diverse group of participants asked tough questions of each other and the speakers about what the SREX Report means in practice and how best to respond to the Report’s findings.

Regional, national and community-level action

There were was consensus that action is needed at three levels; community, national and regional, but the opportunities and challenges are very different at each level.

Mihir Bhatt of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute called for action in four areas: establishment of early warning systems at the local level, risk transfer and how to identify and fund these risks, use of the education system to teach risk reduction measures, and improved planning in urban coastal areas.

Participants shared best practices and case studies on how to integrate disaster risk management (DRM) and climate change into national development planning. Mr Ahsan, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests in Bangladesh described how his country – one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable – is already doing this. (A CDKN ‘inside story on climate compatible development’ explores Bangladesh’s disaster management programme in more depth.)

The Director of the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, Dr Satendra, identified great opportunities at the regional level for collecting and sharing best practices, facilitating dialogue between Governments and carrying out research.  For example, his centre is investing in a SAARC South Asia Disaster Knowledge Network. However, he and many others also stressed the importance of national disaster management systems.

Many of the NGOs present were able to share the innovations that they are piloting at the community level. For example, Practical Action and others are developing early warning systems with communities in Nepal, which are relevant elsewhere in the region.

Ritesh Kumar of Wetlands International presented the work of the CDKN-supported ‘Partners for Resilience’ Programme that is testing an approach with communities across the world to increase their understanding of disaster risk and its link to climate change, and building their capacity to integrate risk reduction within planning processes.

Insurance options

Insurance was a common topic of discussion throughout the event. Participants raised the need for greater competition among insurance providers to help to bring down the cost of insurance premiums. Others questioned whether insurance schemes, particularly those modelled on the corporate sector, can be made to be ‘pro-poor’. In response to this the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Pakistan, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir, shared his agency’s ambitious plans for an index-based insurance scheme for communities that would be rolled out at the provincial level in Pakistan.

Moving forward with the SREX findings

Policy-makers and experts working at all levels agreed with the SREX conclusion that greater effort needs to be made in ensuring institutions and policy on DRM and climate change are ‘joined-up’. Ironically, as one goes down to the local government and community level, where capacity is lowest, there is more potential for an integrated approach, as the same officials are responsible for both DRM and climate change, and the distinction is less important.  Equally, several speakers and participants called for greater collaboration between institutions and countries on DRM and climate change issues, to improve the accessibility of valuable data and to share lessons learnt.

While most of the participants at the event were already convinced of the need for action in tackling climate extremes and disasters, the SREX gives scientific validity to their work. It also prompted all of them to consider how their work fits within the wider objective of climate compatible development.

So, while the SREX got the conversation started, it is up to all of us – donors, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners – to decide how we use this information and rise to the challenge to respond with ambitious, coordinated and effective action.

Read about the other regional outreach events for the IPCC SREX report on


Image copyright CDKN, credit Amy Kirbyshire.

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