Disaster management adapting to climate change

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Copenhagen: An Historic Opportunity

This week, the long-anticipated conference on climate change kicked off in Copenhagen. A delegation of experts from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is present throughout the talks. The delegation is representing the interests of its 186 member National Societies, many of whom are urgently tackling the humanitarian impact of climate change and weather-related disasters. In essence, Copenhagen represents an important opportunity to capitalize on years of engagement and behind-the-scenes advocacy around climate concerns.

Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the IFRC, outlines his organization's chief concerns and expectations.

"Copenhagen is an historic opportunity to produce a fair, binding, global agreement to address our future and ensure that the unavoidable human suffering caused by climate change is minimized.

It is our view that disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and scaled-up disaster response should be confirmed and embedded as key elements of adaptation strategies in the final text of the Copenhagen Agreement. The focus must remain firmly on a solution-oriented approach to proactively addressing the unavoidable rises in risks that we already know we will face.

We must strengthen disaster response systems at all levels - local, national and global - and enable systematic and timely humanitarian action to be triggered by early warning. This represents a paradigm shift in how we manage humanitarian operations, but it is essential if we are to meet the unprecedented humanitarian challenges posed by climate change risks.

People faced with the horrendous humanitarian consequences of climate change must be supported and assisted to adapt to the known risks. These adaptation efforts must prioritize people and communities where vulnerabilities are highest, and where they are most predictable. Furthermore, adaptation must be fully integrated into longer-term disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies.

Local-level preparedness and risk reduction actions should be recognized as key elements in adapting to climate change. The agreement reached in Copenhagen must not only address the issue at national level, but must also engage and empower local people, local governments and local civil society actors.

Adaptation funding should cover increased costs of humanitarian action to respond to climate-related disasters and enable effective action in every corner of the world where it is most needed. Transparent mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that local communities benefit from this funding. Substantial additional and new financing to current Official Development Assistance (ODA) will be crucial to put any agreement into practice.

Linked to this we expect robust fundraising mechanisms to be developed for adaptation that ensures the flow of both financial and technical support to local actors.

Climate change has a human face - it is increasing disaster risk for millions of the world's most vulnerable people. Climate change is not a future threat: it is a key driver of disasters now. The frequency and intensity of floods, storms and droughts is increasing and the average number of people affected by climate-related natural disasters annually is estimated at 243 million.

Scientific evidence indicates that this trend will continue at an accelerated pace and the forecast is that by 2015, the number of people affected per year will have increased to 375 million. Those suffering most from this growing uncertainty are the poorest and most vulnerable, living in risk-prone countries. These people lack the resources to adapt to, or cope with, the rapidly changing climate patterns and thus stand to lose what little socio-economic development they have achieved.

Copenhagen presents an opportunity to protect our future generations. Let's seize this opportunity now. Not only is it high time that we reach an agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions but that we finally recognize the humanitarian impact of climate change and support countries to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change."