Statement by Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP, for the International Disaster Risk (IDRC) Davos 2008 Conference

The threat of global climate change has put the environment high on the international agenda.

Images of environmental change - from melting glaciers to expanding deserts and disappearing forests– are regular front page news.

The challenge we face today is clear. We must adapt to an altered environment and we must make greater efforts to prevent continued damage that will further increase human vulnerability.

If we are going to deal with risk effectively, our efforts need to be scaled up significantly.

Patterns of disaster risk are changing. The critical ecosystems that support community resilience are being lost at an alarming rate due to changes in climate and our mismanagement of natural resources.

One need look no further than the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or UNEP's Global Environment Outlook-4.

These reports describe ever-sobering scenarios that are likely to play out on a far shorter timescale than was previously supposed.

Major changes in ecosystems are predicted for increases in global average temperature beyond 1.5-2.5°C.

This will affect biodiversity and a variety of ecosystem goods and services - from water and food supply to storm and flood regulation.

Among the impacts will be increased migration. There is evidence that large numbers of people are already on the move, with millions more expected to follow as climate change mounts.

Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals may slow or even reverse.

In Africa's Sahel, warmer and drier conditions have reduced the crop-growing season. In the same region, up to 600 million people could be at risk of increased water stress if temperatures rise by 2°C or more.

The world's coastal areas are also affected. Sea-level rise and unsustainable human development are depleting coastal wetlands and mangroves and increasing damage from coastal flooding.

Millions of people in densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low are projected to be flooded annually due to sea-level rise and other challenges, such as tropical storms, by the 2080s.

We know how to conduct risk assessments. We also know how to protect ecosystems.

We now need to turn our attention to dramatically scaling up implementation.

This will require greater political commitment and financial support.

The invoice for our greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate includes an increase in the frequency and extremities of natural hazards.

'Climate proofing' economies to minimize vulnerability to future disasters is now crucial.

The costs of adaptation will be far lower than the cost of damage.

Annual economic losses from extreme events increased tenfold from the 1950s to approximately USD70 billion in 2003. Natural hazards, such as floods, fires, storms, drought, earthquakes, accounted for more than 80 per cent of insured losses.

The urgency of reducing disaster risk was recognized in 2005 in Kobe, Japan, when governments adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action for Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters.

It is clear that without a decisive post-2012 climate change regime and without major efforts to reduce disaster risk, meeting the Millennium Development Goals will be tough.

The Bali Action Plan, endorsed at the United Nations Climate Change conference in December 2007, calls for enhanced action on adaptation through risk management, risk reduction strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change.

It is within this context that the ISDR Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction, coordinated by UNEP, has been formed.

Within this Partnership, UN agencies, NGOs and specialist institutes will work collectively to guide and better coordinate environmental efforts in pursuit of disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.

I am confident that the many exciting ideas that will be introduced by the technical experts at the IDRC Davos 2008 conference will also motivate future initiatives for scaling up our efforts.

It is important that the ideas presented here inform the UNISDR Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will meet again in Geneva in 2009.

We will need to focus our attention on showing results at that important meeting.

Thank you


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