Press release

Climate Change Meets Disaster

November 19, 2001

Expert group links climate change to nature conservation and disaster prevention

WINNIPEG — Experts emphasised the links between climate change, ecosystem management and disaster prevention today at the end of a two-day workshop on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation. The meeting evaluated the available evidence for the linkages and set up a Task Force to define research gaps and actions to influence policy.

"This Task Force gives climate change a human face. It is not about a warmer climate in 50 years time, it is about disasters that are already increasing in frequency and violence and that hit poor communities harder than they hit the countries that cause the problem," says Lionel Hurst, Ambassador in Washington of Antigua and Barbuda, co-chair of the two-day meeting.

The global cost of disasters is $30 billion annually and is estimated to increase to $300 billion by the year 2050 as a result of increasing climate-related disasters. The world's most vulnerable populations - in particular, those living on fragile or degraded lands, like the Arctic Inuvialuit or West Indian nations - are those most likely to bear the brunt of these disasters. The impact of disasters on regional economies and local livelihoods undermines development and conservation efforts and deepens the divide between those who can afford to protect themselves, and those who cannot.

"In recent years, disasters cost the world's poorest nations more than 14 per cent of their GDP, the richest nations less than three per cent," says Janet Abramowitz with the Worldwatch Institute.

Disasters are natural phenomenon that cannot be prevented, but human activities often exacerbate the consequences. Deforestation increases the risk of landslides, and drainage of wetlands and construction in floodplains increase the risk of floods. Landslides during Hurricane Mitch (Mesoamerica) especially hit poor farmers that are forced to farm on the cheaper land on hillslopes.

The Task Force intends to address the linkages between ecosystem management and disasters in research and will bring that knowledge to international fora. They emphasised the discrepancy between the local measures that are needed to mitigate disasters and the international negotiations on climate change: "Negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol are dominated by national economic interests. The question is what we can do to put the real issues on the agenda," says Brett Orlando, IUCN Climate Change Expert.

One central message in the expert meeting was that, even though measures to adapt to climate change or mitigate its consequences may be available, it is vital to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. "Climate change reflects a world that is 'overeating'. We can buy bigger clothes, or go on a diet. We can adapt to climate change, but to solve the problem we must reduce emissions," says Mark Halle of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The meeting was organised by IUCN - The World Conservation Union, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Stockholm, Environment Institute - Boston Centre.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.