BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments heading to Japan next month to adopt a new global plan to reduce the risk of disasters will have to resolve a row over aid to help poor countries become more resilient to extreme weather, earthquakes and other hazards.
It had been hoped the text for the world’s second such plan would be largely agreed before the mid-March conference in the city of Sendai, hit hard by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But only around 70 percent was accepted by governments at the last negotiating session.
Contentious areas include how much financial support wealthy nations should give vulnerable states, how to set global targets for measuring progress, and what role U.N. agencies should play in rolling out the plan, likely to run until 2030.
“The overall feeling is that an agreement will be found somehow ... but it means the whole nature of the Sendai process is going to change quite significantly into a discussion on these sticking points,” said Tom Mitchell, head of the climate and environment program at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.
“I don’t think finance is the only one, but I think it is going to be the big one,” added the expert, who has advised governments on the process.
Many countries have paid for the bulk of their investments to protect people and infrastructure from natural and technological disasters out of their own treasuries so far. Spending to prevent disasters accounts for only a tiny fraction of international aid.
But as climate change worsens extreme weather events and sea-level rise, some developing states feel the time has come to define more clearly the amount of money countries historically responsible for global warming should give to help those most at risk from its impacts to cope with them.
Late last year, developing countries added to the draft Sendai text a proposal to increase the financial resources they would receive from developed nations by an unspecified percentage of gross national income per year.
This met fierce resistance from some donor governments, including Britain and the United States, afraid it could be a way of forcing them to pay financial compensation for losses and damage caused by climate change - a red line for rich nations at U.N. climate talks.
“Sendai now seems to be an opportunity to play out a loss and damage discussion in a different arena but without using quite the same words,” said Mitchell.
Yet following the final round of pre-Sendai negotiations in late January, some developing states began to worry this approach could deprive them of a bargaining chip at Paris climate talks in December, where governments are due to agree a new global deal to tackle climate change.
“Countries will want to strike a balance between how much finance they are really pushing for in the (Sendai agreement), because fast forward to later this year, the issue of financing will be coming up (in Paris), and they want to play their cards right,” said Kashmala Kakakhel, disaster risk reduction coordinator with LEAD Pakistan, a policy think tank.
Margareta Wahlström, head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), which is managing the Sendai process, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she did not expect the new framework to include “solid commitments” on international aid for disaster risk reduction.
“I know some countries will reinforce their financial commitments,” Wahlström said. But this would likely come in speeches at Sendai or in discussions at and after the conference rather than being baked into the agreement itself, she added.
One reason is that countries will discuss how to finance sustainable development at a conference in Ethiopia in July and again when they are due to finalize a new set of global development goals from September.
Many disaster experts argue it doesn’t make practical sense to separate aid to reduce risk from other types of development investment, such as education or health, because there is a need to address disaster threats across the spectrum.
LEAD Pakistan’s Kakakhel said developing country officials are often unclear as to why they need additional money to prevent disasters, and how they would use it.
“The problem is not the funds, the problem is about the lack of plans for what you will do with the funds,” she said. “If you don’t plan better, more money will not solve your problem.”
A concerted effort must be made at the national level to work out how to put the new global framework into action so it helps people on the ground hit by floods or quakes, she added.
Wahlström said she hoped governments in Sendai would respond to demand around the world for practical guidance on lowering the risk of disasters.
“Maybe the realization and understanding of how important it is for thousands of people back home who are working on this issue will release (the framework) from this discussion,” she said.
Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Tim Pearce