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FEATURE: Policymakers must consider risk from slow-onset processes, as well as extreme weather


At the 2010 United Nations climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, the Parties to the UNFCCC recognised the need to strengthen efforts to understand and reduce loss and damage associated with extreme weather and slow-onset events, caused by climate change.

Parties requested the Secretariat organise an expert meeting and a series of regional consultations to consider ways to address loss and damage, taking into consideration experience at all levels. Here, Sven Harmeling, of Germanwatch, and Koko Warner, of United Nations University, present Part One of a two-part report from the Latin America and Caribbean meeting held in Mexico City, Mexico, in July 2012.

Part one addresses the need for greater attention to be paid to slow-onset processes resulting from climate change. Part two by Katie Harris considers the extent to which integrated risk-management approaches can help address the challenges caused by slow-onset risks.

Click here to see our report from the Africa regional meeting

Latin America and the Carbbean islands are used to experiencing extreme weather events. The high-profile hurricanes Mitch (1998), Katrina (2005) and Irene (2011) caused billions of dollars of damage, and droughts frequently devastate crops and cause hunger. As a result, the region has considerable experience of managing risk from disasters and developing domestic mechanisms for funding measures to reduce the risk from disasters. This invaluable knowledge was shared at the 2nd UNFCCC regional expert meeting on Loss and Damage in Mexico last month.

Where the region is less capable, the meeting revealed, is in addressing risks from slow-onset climate-related events, such as sea-level rise, sea-temperature rise and ocean acidification. Discussions at the meeting showed that these processes have received significantly less attention from policymakers. Many delegates called for this knowledge gap to be addressed much more seriously, given the foreseeable devastating impacts in a world potentially heated to 4°C higher than pre-industrial levels.

Participants concluded that more comprehensive approaches are needed, which integrate adaptation and disaster-risk management to reduce loss and damage. There is also a need to increase and enhance political coordination and encourage data sharing. The findings broadly echoed those reached at the 1st UNFCCC meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June this year. A third meeting, focusing on Asia’s experiences and challenges will be held later this month, with details for the fourth and final meeting on Small Island Developing States still to be confirmed.

Asia can share first-hand experiences of slow-onset processes

These future gatherings will provide opportunities to look more closely at the challenges arising from slow-onset processes. In Asia, Bangladesh is heavily affected by sea-level rise, as well as salinisation of soils. Sea-level rise is also already very apparent in many small-island states in the Pacific. Meanwhile, the melting of glaciers in the Himalaya threatens the long-term water supply of countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and India. Thinking towards a political decision in Doha at COP18 will need to figure out where international cooperation could help fill knowledge gaps and shape an international mechanism to address loss and damage.

 

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