Addressing Climate Vulnerabilities is Key to Fighting Poverty

Your Excellency, Dr. Plodprasop Suraswadi
Minister of Science & Technology, Royal Thai Government

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri,
Chairman, IPCC

Dr. Kraesae Chanawongse,
Chairman, ADPC Board of Trustees

Dr. Bhichit Rattakul,
Special Advisor, ADPC

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change is the greatest global challenge of the twenty first century. It is also one of our biggest opportunities.

Every incident of extreme weather, ecological emergency, and disaster caused by natural hazards, forces us to confront this. It adds to the growing sense of urgency to tackle unsustainable development.

This Asia-Pacific launch of the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) could not be more timely or more relevant to our region.

2011 will be remembered not only as a year of global financial crisis, but also for recording the greatest annual disaster-related economic losses of all time – peaking at more than USD 366 billion worldwide – a 65% increase over the losses in 2010 (of USD 222 billion).

In the countries of Asia and the Pacific, the disasters of 2011 were felt more directly, and with far greater intensity, than anywhere else on Earth – with our region accounting for no less than 70 per cent of the total losses.

People living in the Asia-Pacific region are already four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those in Africa – and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe or North America.

Climate change is making these risks even worse – adding new layers of vulnerability and exposing more people to risk.

I had the opportunity, in February, to address the South-East Asia Flood Risk Reduction Forum, and at that meeting I posed the question: how best do we prevent hazards from becoming disasters?

The findings of this IPCC Special Report, support and emphasize the answer I suggested – that hazards, in this case those presented by changing and extreme climate conditions, become disasters in the absence of development, where inequalities are greatest and with inadequate investment in risk reduction.

The Report is clear – that exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate extremes vary greatly “based on inequalities expressed through levels of wealth and education, disability, and health status, as well as gender, age, class and other social and cultural characteristics.”

This echoes the findings of our own 2012 Asia-Pacific Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which identifies inequalities as major stumbling blocks for development.

When flood waters rise, and droughts strike, when wildfires rage and crops fail, it is the poor and marginalized who are worst affected.

In communities who rely on subsistence farming, the combination of disasters and development failures push the near-poor into poverty, and ensure even greater vulnerability to future disasters. It is a vicious cycle that must be broken.

We are in a race against time to meet the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, and a large part of our big final push to 2015 must be a focus on closing development gaps.

This is why climate change can be viewed as an opportunity – because we stand at a tipping point. Our global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change can and must complement our efforts to make development more inclusive and sustainable.

In this stage of global transition we must make the policy choices to benefit our people and our planet. The fight against extreme poverty cannot be won without also addressing the climate vulnerabilities of our most at-risk communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has scaled up our integration of disaster risk reduction and climate preparedness as key components of our economic and social development agenda.

The 2011 Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between the United Nations and ASEAN, for instance, identifies disaster risk reduction as a major area in which the UN and the countries of South-East Asia should work together.

What the IPCC Special Report refers to as ‘low-regret measures’ to address the risks of both climate extremes and disasters, will also help our member States make real progress in closing development gaps.

Early warning systems, more sustainable land use planning, micro-insurance, better local ecosystem management, improvements to health, water supply, sanitation and irrigation – these are all important development challenges with co-benefits for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Harnessing the potential of green growth is another opportunity presented by climate change. Using climate action as a new driver of economic growth will, however, require a fundamental transformation of our regional economic systems. This is why ESCAP will shortly be releasing our Roadmap for Low Carbon Green Growth.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban-Ki-moon has identified sustainable development as the top priority for his second term.

In just seven weeks the world will come together in Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20. It will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to plot a new, more sustainable course to the future we want.

The Secretary-General has said that climate change is destroying our path to sustainability, and that we must act together on scientific facts to promote evidence-based policy choices.

This IPCC Special Report makes an important contribution to advancing this agenda – and I would like to commend Dr. Pachauri and his team for the unflagging efforts that have resulted in its publication.

I would also like to thank the ADPC for organizing this opportunity to explore the implications of the Report for Asia and the Pacific.

You can count on ESCAP to be your committed partner in this endeavor. Together with you, we will work with our member States – providing the Asia-Pacific regional platform to shape these transformations which are so necessary for inclusive, sustainable and resilient development.

Thank you.