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Law and policies that protect the most vulnerable against climate-related disaster risks: Findings and lessons learned from Pacific island countries

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This report was developed by IRC-MSCA CAROLINE research fellow Dr Tommaso Natoli (University College Cork—School of Law) in the course of his secondment to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Law Programme. The report represents one of the outputs of the research project “Leave No One Behind—Developing Climate-Smart/Disaster Risk Management Laws that Protect People in Vulnerable Situations for a Comprehensive Implementation of the UN Agenda 2030”.

The project builds on the need for more coherence between climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR), which is today considered as part of the holistic approach to global governance to be accomplished within the framework of the UN Agenda 2030 and its centrepiece the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The basic connections between CCA and DRR lie in their partly overlapping goals, namely the reduction of losses due to weather and climate-related hazards (including both slow-onset and sudden events) and the improvement of community resilience (i.e. their capacity to regain equilibrium after critical system disruptions).

The urgency of a greater CCA-DRR alignment has been increasingly reflected in many relevant resolutions and reports adopted at the international level in the last few years. The Checklist on Law and DRR developed in 2015 by the IFRC and the UNDP stresses the need “to foster a more integrated approach to DRR by taking into account climate change and sustainable development considerations within the review of legislation”. Along these lines, a recent comparative assessment of previous literature on the topic (including scientific and technical analysis, research projects and institutional reports)4 highlights that the objective of achieving effective CCA-DRR integration largely depends on the existence of a favourable institutional and regulatory framework. However, the lack of viable normative models and standards, and empirical research on their impact at national and sub-national levels, was one of the main findings of the literature review.

Given the above, the aim of the present study is two-fold. On the theoretical level, it will contribute to the advancement of thinking on achieving a sustainable alignment of CCA and DRR, by exploring the role of law and policy-making in Pacific Island Countries (or PICs, see Box 1). In particular, the specific context of PICs will be considered through the lens of the intersecting commitments made in 2015 by the international community, with specific regards to the binding provisions of the Paris Agreement (in particular article 7 on climate change adaptation) as well as to the political endorsement of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (with specific regards to its guiding principle 19 (e) and para. 27). The overall linchpin of the analysis will be the UN Agenda 2030, that acknowledges “the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments”.

On a more practical level, this report was developed as a tool of reference for the institutional and operational mandate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Law Programme, i.e. to provide evidence-based models for law and policy-makers and advocate for new and more effective normative frameworks that protect the most vulnerable against major hazards.8 This mandate was reiterated and expanded at the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that took place in December 2019. As one of the Conference outcomes, participating States and RCRC National Societies acknowledged the need to “ensure an integrated approach to disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change” in domestic disaster laws, policies, strategies and plans (see Box 2).

The complex, multi-faceted and evolving concept of vulnerability against natural hazards in PICs represents another recurrent theme of this study. The special protection of vulnerable groups (see Box 4), and their inclusion in the processes for drafting, adoption and implementation of law and policy at both national and sub-national levels, represents one of the core elements of the following analysis, complementing each of its sections. Hence, vulnerable groups will not be considered merely as beneficiaries of additional normative safeguards and protection, and their effective inclusion as proactive stakeholders and contributors to the development of new law and policies dealing with climate resilience will be assessed.