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5 Questions for Francis Ghesquiere About Climate Change Disaster Risk and Recovery

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While most people think of dealing with Climate Change by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, a significant part of the Paris Climate Conference is dedicated to figuring out how to pay for the consequences of Climate Change – particularly those changes that will cause climate-related disasters. To get a better understanding of these issues – issues that will mean life and death for many millions of people – I interviewed Francis Ghesquiere, Manager of Risk Management Practice at the World Bank and Head of the Global Facility for Disaster Risk & Recovery.


Question: What are the main kinds of disasters we are likely to see increase as climate change progresses – even if a good deal is struck at Paris?


Climate change is projected to increase the risk of extreme weather events such as heat waves, tropical cyclones, storm surges, floods, and droughts.


Every year, disasters like these take an enormous toll on human lives and economic growth. Weather-related losses and damage have risen from an annual average of about $50 billion in the 1980s to close to $200 billion over the last decade. Natural disasters roll back development gains, and make efforts to end poverty more difficult to reach. A new report by the World Bank finds that without intervention, climate change could potentially push 100 million more people back into poverty over the next 15 years.


We are seeing 1.4 million people move to cities every week. By 2050, more than 2.5 billion people will be added to the planet, with 90% of urban growth in that period taking place in developing countries. So the way we build our cities is an important part of resilience efforts. Cities tend to block rivers and increase flooding – the growth in urban populations exposed to flood risk is staggering. Many coastal urban areas will also be at greater risk from powerful storm surges as sea levels rise.


Question: How can the international community best support the most vulnerable nations in preparing for increases in disaster?


Risk has to be managed at the local level, but the international community can help by being a broker of knowledge and technical expertise in this rapidly evolving field. No country has all the answers – even developed nations – but we can facilitate a flow of knowledge and good practices between countries. We’re working with Japan, for example, to apply lessons learned from national weather services to help countries make the most out of their own systems.


Second, we need to increase the availability of financing for disaster risk management (DRM) and adaptation investments. This aligns very well with the mandate of the World Bank to eradicate poverty and promote shared prosperity. Alongside preserving lives and livelihoods directly, investments in resilience often bring multiple benefits – for example, preserving mangrove forests not only helps resist storm surges but also protects the environment.


Finally, we need to work collectively to better understand the economic incentives behind adaptation and DRM, which drive national decision making. Investing in resilience has clear economic payoffs – developing countries could, for instance, achieve an additional $30 billion a year in economic benefits with improved weather, climate, and hydrological forecasting.


Question: What’s the role of the Global Facility for Disaster Risk & Recovery? How can the facility make a difference in saving people’s lives?


The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is a global initiative to help developing countries better understand and address their vulnerabilities to natural hazards and adapt to climate change.


GFDRR provides grant financing, technical assistance, and knowledge sharing activities to mainstream disaster and climate risk management in policies and investment programs. As of July this year nearly half of GFDRR’s program – working with more than 400 local partners in 52 countries – supported projects specifically linked to climate change. Moreover, GFDRR helps leverage larger investments in resilience from its partners – in FY15, the Facility leveraged more than $3 billion from the World Bank alone.


One example is Sri Lanka – GFDRR helped the government develop a comprehensive approach to climate risk management, including a $1 billion flood and drought risk program aimed at mitigating growing losses from climatic events that have affected more than 13 million people throughout the country over the last 15 years.


Question: Humanitarian relief and recovery agencies are already stretched to the limit in 2015. In the coming decades the cost of impending climate-related disasters will be well into the trillions of dollars. Realistically, how can we hope to gather together the needed resources?


We have to address disasters at the source. When risks are identified in advance, disasters can be avoided altogether or their impact limited. This is the message we take to the governments we work with around the world. Compare Haiti and Chile – the 2010 Chilean earthquake released 800 times more energy that the Haitian earthquake of the same year, but Chile suffered a few hundred casualties against Haiti’s hundreds of thousands.


But the benefit of investing in resilience goes well beyond avoiding both losses and the need for humanitarian intervention. A new report we are releasing at the Paris Climate talks, the Triple Dividend of Resilience discusses the multiple benefits that can result from targeted and smart investments in resilience.


Take the case of the recent drought in the Horn of Africa – in Ethiopia GFDRR helped expand the provision of conditional cash transfers from 6.5 to 9.6 million people, greatly limiting malnutrition in the country and reducing the burden on humanitarian aid. Additionally, by making watersheds more productive this program also improved livelihoods through activities like small-scale-irrigation schemes.


Smarter investments in ex-ante disaster risk reduction like these will not only reduce the strain on humanitarian relief, but can also boost economic productivity and social progress.


Question: What should citizens be looking for in the Paris negotiations to indicate that disaster risk reduction is being adequately addressed by world leaders?


The ultimate risk reduction measure will be mitigation. With temperature rise over 2 degrees, we will begin seeing catastrophic rises in climate and disaster risk that will be well beyond our capacity for intervention. We are already seeing increases in the incidence and severity of events like heatwaves and tropical cyclones. Aggressive engagement in adaption remains central to success in Paris.


GFDRR is supporting a number of initiatives in this effort, including the Small Island States Resilience Initiative (SISRI), which is being highlighted at the Paris talks this week. It brings together the World Bank and other partners to reduce climate and disaster risks to these highly vulnerable countries by scaling-up investments and adjusting global knowledge to country needs. Another critical initiative is Climate Risks and Early Warning Systems (CREWS), launched by a coalition of partners, led by France, which will help least developed countries enhance their early warning systems. We are also working on an innovative program, ‘Insuresilience‘ – a new G7 Climate Risk Initiative led by Germany, which supports innovative insurance solutions to help vulnerable countries manage weather and climate risks. We look forward to working with our partners on these exciting and complementary programs.




Francis Ghesquiere is Manager of the Disaster Risk Management Practice of the World Bank and Head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction & Recovery (GFDRR) Secretariat.




Tim Ward is the author of The Master Communicator’s Handbook, a guide for thought leaders and Changemakers: “Communications is not about output – it’s about impact.”

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