OPINION: G20 Summit – A Missed Opportunity?
Mihir Bhatt, Director of All-India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), considers the recent G20 Summit a missed opportunity to tackle the vulnerability of economic growth and development to natural disasters and climate change.
It would be difficult to argue with the agenda of the G20 held in early September in Russia. After all, everyone demands sustainable, inclusive, and balanced growth. And everyone demands the creation of millions of new jobs worldwide. Perhaps in this phase of a financial slow down, the top policy-makers are in rare harmony with what the citizens want. In reality perhaps geo-politics overshadowed progress on many of the agenda points.
What was missing from both the agenda and the discussions was a focus on risk and resilience: reducing the risk of climate change and natural hazards and building the resilience of livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable. Somehow, the G20 leaders seem to assume our future will be free from disasters and extreme climate events.
And this is odd. Because, since the last G20 Summit, virtually every leader has dealt with one or more disasters and extreme climate events at home or internationally. As the IPCC’s SREX report tells us, the largest economies of the world face disaster risks now more than ever before. And yet none of the leaders have ever mentioned any type of risk or resilience beyond the financial or economic at the Summits.
In reality, climate change and disaster risks and development risks are highly connected. Let me draw from the discussion held at the recent meeting of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network’s (CDKN) Disaster Risk Management Learning and Innovation Hub in Asia, on June 19-21, 2013 in Bangkok. The message from over 50 participants piloting innovative climate risk projects in Asia was that the framework for strong, sustainable, and balanced growth must include protection from natural disaster risks. The participants have piloted ways to reduce risk and build resilience and have the evidence to show that development is sustainable only if it considers these other types of risks.
For each of the issues which are the core concern of the G20, climate change and disaster risks are highly relevant:
While jobs and employment were discussed at the G20 Summit, there was no thought to the exposure of existing jobs to climate and disaster risks which threaten their existence, as well as the potential of creating new jobs by carrying out risk reduction activities in the hotspots of risk across the world. More and more jobs—formal and informal—in the delta areas of the Brahmaputa river, high altitude settlements in Ladakh, Kashmir, and in the flood plains of the Punjab in Pakistan, as well as elsewhere, are facing the risk of being lost. These jobs are mainly held by the poorest within the vulnerable communities of fishermen, coastal farmers, horticulturalists in hill areas and small holders in flood plains.
Though scattered throughout the region, when added up the possible loss of livelihoods due to climate change and disaster risks over the next five years is often discussed to be from 3 to 20 million. Official data has yet to emerge from various ongoing research and policy initiatives. However, there are also examples of new jobs being created by investing in disaster risk reduction. In the Mahanadi Delta of Odisha, India, landless women are taking up nonfarm small businesses to diversify their income; so are women in the Mekong in South East Asia and Nile Deltas in Egypt. The G20 leaders should start demanding regular updates from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Bank or others on the risks faced by livelihoods due to extreme weather events.
Take a look at energy sustainability. For some reason, energy security continues to remain a development ‘issue’ and not a disaster ‘issue’. Not only is energy security facing the risk of disasters—floods and earthquakes in two thirds of hydropower establishments in Asia—but it is this very vulnerable energy that is needed to accelerate recovery after any disaster. The resilience of energy security, at least energy security for the poorest sections on the population in G20 countries, was certainly not on the G20 Summit agenda. Leading energy corporations such as Shell and others can be invited to present such scenarios at the next G20 Summit.
As the post-2015 development goals are being defined, ‘Development for All’ was on the G20 agenda. This agenda item also implicitly includes those at risk of disasters and those who are victims of disasters. But this is not enough anymore. What is needed is a ‘Safer Development for All’ vision. Safer not only in terms of disasters and climate risk, but also in terms of income, assets and basic services of drinking water and sanitation. The next G20 Summit must demand from United Nation agencies such as United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that reducing the risk of disasters and building resilience be included as a cross cutting theme for the revised development goals.
The international financial architecture and multilateral trade is always a priority for the G20 summits, but as always this time the G20 ignored the possible impact of a major disaster on not only the growth and flow of finance and trade, but also on the architecture itself. Some elements of this international financial architecture are in need of retrofitting such as enabling trade and commerce and small businesses to withstand financial shocks. Imagine the impact of a major earthquake in Greece or Portugal now! Or consider how major floods or droughts affect both local and international markets. International trade and finance needs a climate change and disaster resilience audit and the G20 Governments should start demanding it from international financial and trade institutions.
Fighting corruption is also high on the agenda of the G20 leaders. Humanitarian crises are notorious for the corruption that arises due to poor accountability and inefficiencies in the system. Downward accountability to the victims, and lateral accountability to other authorities and donors needs greater supervision worldwide. Networks such as Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) have developed ways to address this. And as humanitarian crises escalate with extreme events, the possibility of corruption related to flood management, drought proofing, and cyclone shelter is something to look out for by the leaders.
So is there a single most important step these busy leaders can take at the next Summit to address the risks facing our world today? Is there a way ahead? The G20 would do well to take a timely and reflective look at the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), prepared by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and plan for a development course post 2015 that takes into account the range of vulnerabilities we face that will make the world a safer, better place for all.
Mihir Bhatt is the founder and Director of the All-India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) and can be contacted at email@example.com
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Photos courtesy of the The Council of the European Union