Adaptation Cannot Be Forgotten Piece of Climate Equation

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the fifth United Nations Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters: “Building Back Better towards a More Resilient and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World”, in Brussels today:


It is a great pleasure to join this Special Session. I thank the Member States, the High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies of Japan for organizing it.


For decades, natural disasters have been one of the major causes of worsening poverty, forcing some 26 million people into poverty each year and reversing developmental gains. Such natural disasters are almost always connected to water, whether through floods, storms, droughts, tsunamis or landslides.


The climate crisis is now exacerbating and intensifying water-related disasters, creating complex challenges and threatening lives and jobs. Over the past two decades, climate-related disasters nearly doubled in number compared to the preceding 20 years, affecting more than 4 billion people. These disasters have claimed the lives of millions and resulted in over $2.97 trillion in economic losses. Climate change is altering rainfall patterns, affecting water availability, prolonging periods of drought and heat, and increasing the intensity of cyclones, which can lead to horrific flooding events.


These trends create enormous challenges for our efforts to build more sustainable, resilient communities and societies by implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And they will accelerate over the course of the Decade of Action, with projections suggesting a 50 per cent increase in humanitarian needs from climate-related disasters by 2030.


The most important way to address these challenges is by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. We must do this through enhanced nationally determined contributions that together reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, against a 2010 baseline, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.


But we are far off track from meeting these goals, current commitments are insufficient, and emissions continue to rise. Global average temperatures are already 1.2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Last year, cyclones lashed the shores of many countries that were already grappling with serious liquidity crises and debt burdens, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The countries that are most impacted by climate change are also those with the least fiscal space to invest in adaptation and resilience.


Adaptation cannot be the forgotten piece of the climate equation. I have been advocating strongly for the developed world to fulfil its commitment to mobilize $100 billion annually to address the needs of developing countries. I have also called for 50 per cent of total climate finance to be spent on building resilience and adaptation, up from 20 per cent now, and we must ensure that this finance goes to those most in need, particularly small island developing States and least developed countries. We must support nations on the verge of climate crisis now.


Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a precious opportunity to rebuild societies and economies stronger and better. Recovering better means investing in resilience, while meeting water management challenges like floods and droughts, and providing water and sanitation services to all. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of prevention and preparedness for effective response and recovery.


The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by the type of biological hazard foreseen in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which emphasizes addressing multiple hazards and interconnected risks. We must apply that lens to our policymaking on disaster risk reduction, COVID recovery, and climate adaptation. Recovery measures must be transformative, preserving our environment, our ecosystems and biodiversity, and where possible, making good the damage that has already been done.


Investing in resilient infrastructure is an investment in the future. Every $1 invested in making infrastructure disaster-resilient saves $4 in reconstruction. More than 100 countries now have a disaster risk reduction strategy at least partially aligned to the Sendai Framework. And in at least 55 countries, local governments have their own disaster risk reduction strategies — essential to building resilience from the ground up. But this still represents a minority of countries. I urge all countries and local governments to work together, forging partnerships with the private sector and civil society and accelerate implementation.


Disasters undermine sustainable development. Without good risk governance focused on participation, inclusion, transparency and accountability, our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Sendai and the Paris Agreement will be further derailed.

The United Nations around the world is your steadfast partner in tackling water and disaster issues. The International Decade for Action, “Water for Sustainable Development” and the Water Conference in 2023 are opportunities for the international community to mobilize around transforming the management of water and achieving the water-related Sustainable Development Goals.


I wish all of you a successful Session and I thank you.

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