Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Disasters as a footnote in the conversation on Climate Change

Climate Reality Project
Yesterday I wrote about how the Social Good Summit's theme of #2030NOW is an opportunity to inform the direction of the Post-2015 Agenda, or life after the Millennium Development Goals. With that understanding, I eagerly awaited today to hear about how the concept of climate change and disasters would be woven into some of the panels and presentations, and more importantly, how it would be cemented in the bedrock of the charter from which the global development community would derive its strategic direction for the next 15 years.

Al Gore kicked off the climate change portion of the day with an impassioned call to arms around climate action and introduced presentations like: We're already paying the cost of Carbon, Today's Solutions Tomorrow's Future, and Millennials Leading the Way. While very interesting, I was ultimately disappointed that disasters were only talked about as an outcome of unchecked carbon emissions rather than a topic within the broader conversation with it's own panel/presentation. 

I know that I shouldn't be surprised by this given that it was Al Gore leading the afternoon, but I feel that it was short-sighted. For the purposes of today's discussion at the Social Good Summit, Climate Change and the solutions proposed were economically based. Provide incentives to business to reduce carbon emissions by levying taxes or a financial tariff and bam! bottom-line thinking that gets at the root of the problem in a language business can understand. Talking in those terms however does not address the secondary and tertiary issues that arise from the fact that disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, and ultimately affecting millions of people across the world annually. 

There was no talk of creating more resilient communities better prepared to deal with the cycle of drought, flooding, and famine in Africa, nor how vulnerable populations are addressing the challenges of flooding in cities like Manila. And there was certainly no talk of innovative technological solutions addressing the lack of coordination within OCHA's cluster system, nor how emergent groups are giving early recovery a facelift thanks to innovative social technologies. When looking at disasters through the lens of carbon emission, you're not talking about how to address the ongoing impacts of this augmented climate reality all of us are living in. Of course addressing the root of the problem is critical, but the conversation can and should be about so much more.

There was a bright spot however, Maggie Fox, CEO of the Climate Reality Project talked about climate change in the context of current events, i.e. the flooding in Colorado. She contextualized the issue by talking about how the impacts of this new climate reality are already unfolding in communities across the world and left the door open to continue to broaden the conversation as we move towards 2015. 

I realize that this summit is about expanding how we approach the unfinished business of the MDGs with new tech and fresh ideas, but I also thought it was about expanding upon what was built 13 years ago to encompass the new reality we face, the progress made, and the challenges we've encountered.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono...aka: STUD
Feeling down because no one wanted to talk about disasters, I turned to my friend the internet and looked for hope and found it in Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Hailed as the global champion for Disaster Risk Reduction, President Yudhoyono has mounted a crusade to ensure that the gains made in addressing the MDGs are not put in jeopardy due to the increasing risks natural disasters pose. The fact that there is an advocate championing this cause at some of the highest levels within the international development community, and one that represents a country with a deep appreciation for the impacts disasters can have on all aspects of community, gives me hope that the Post-2015 Agenda will have a broader approach to such an important issue.

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