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OPINION: Governments face further talks to agree disaster risk framework

Elizabeth Carabine reports from the Second Preparatory Meeting for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (PrepCom 2).

Governments met in Geneva on the 17th and 18th November to negotiate on the zero draft of the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). This meeting was supposed to be the last major gathering before the World Conference on DRR in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. But despite high levels of engagement from member states and major groups, and negotiations through the night, the PrepCom 2 failed to deliver consensus on the road to Sendai. Attention now turns to an unplanned Third PrepCom, with dates to be announced.

Slow progress can be partly blamed on a number of process issues. Some governments lost faith in the drafting team, which has served up two weak drafts, and squabbles arose in how well some regional groups are represented in the 10-member ‘bureau’ overseeing progress to Sendai. As a result, the process of agreeing the next draft will be led by all member states, rather than the bureau, meaning that every government got the chance to register its desired changes against every paragraph of the zero draft during PrepCom 2.

The problem negotiators now face is identifying leaders among them who have the vision and political capital to produce the consensus and ambitious agreement so desperately needed.

Reasons for optimism?

Statement after statement called for improved international cooperation and global partnership, as well as the need for better alignment and coherence across international policy frameworks, now broadened beyond the SDGs and climate agreements to include the World Humanitarian Summit and Finance for Sustainable Development process.

Nonetheless, the spectre of common but differentiated responsibilities looms over the process, here used as a byword for how much developed countries will contribute to developing countries to help them reduce disaster risk in the face of changing threats. This is possibly why the US signalled caution about linking climate change and SDGs processes to the Sendai effort too closely in a jarring statement that ran counter to the push from the EU and many of its members.

While synergies between the DRR agreement and SDGs were highlighted at every juncture, practical proposals for what coherence and alignment mean are thin (though the UK showed leadership in their statement). Contrast this to palpable tension about the interface with the climate change agreement, where many governments are clearly running scared about the potential for toxic politics on ‘loss and damage’ to infect the process.

Additionally, while poverty was recognised as an underlying driver of disaster risk in several fora and there are clear ties between eradicating poverty and DRR highlighted in the zero draft of the SDGs, some developing countries evidently still feel uncomfortable with this idea. The woeful lack of discussion around the key issues of environment and conflict suggest there is still some way to go before these underlying drivers of risk are factored into decision-making with any confidence.

Some bolder proposals

A Government-led technical workshop on targets and indicators was well attended but light on detail. Member states appealed for simplicity and Major Groups pushed for community-based monitoring for DRR, national level results frameworks and introduction of the potentially ‘transformational’ 1 in 100 year ‘stress tests’ on all investments favoured by the financial sector.

Interestingly, discussion in the technical workshop on leveraging private finance was much more focussed on specific measures. Here, linking DRR to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment, social impact financing, integrating ecological risk into sovereign credit, recognition of the value of the informal sector and a global sovereign disaster rating system were all put forward as ways to advance implementation of DRR. But while the resilience of people and businesses should be linked to risk-sensitive investments, there is a long way to go in achieving equitable and effective finance arrangements. A proposed DRR Finance Working Group may pave the way.

ODI/CDKN’s opinion was well reflected in several government statements, including the Netherlands and UK, and ODI’s Guide for Decision Makers and Targets for DRR report were received by governments from all regions with great interest. But it is clear that Major Groups still have an important role to play in providing the evidence and advocacy that is so badly needed if PrepCom 3 is to move beyond jumbled text towards a clear vision and solid means of implementation before Sendai. Only then can the process deliver on its promise of an agreement we can all be proud of.

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