Helen Clark: Climate vulnerability and its impact on the MDGs

21 Sep 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark UNDP Administrator
21 September 2010; 11:00am to 13:00pm
UN Secretariat Conference Room 6 NLB

I am pleased to be able to participate in this side event on Climate Vulnerability and its impacts on achieving the Millennium Development Goals in South Asia.

This event takes place five years out from the 2015 target date for achieving the MDGs.
 
The message from the UN Development System is clear: the MDGs can be achieved.

We have seen ample evidence of MDG progress, including in some of the world’s poorest countries.

That progress shows that with good leadership and policies, adequate levels of investment, an absence of conflict, and with international support, the MDGs are not merely aspirational targets. Rather, they are concrete and realisable goals.

At the same time, the inconvenient truth is that climate change is imposing additional burdens on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable and threatens to reverse hard-won development gains.

Changes to agricultural production owing to the increased variability of the weather, for example, is affecting food supply and security.

The extreme weather associated with climate change also has disproportionate effects on the poor through the loss of life, homes, livestock, and of other assets.

Climate vulnerability is something which the countries of South Asia know all too well.

Floods and droughts often occur within months of one another in the region, and frequently with great intensity and devastating impacts, as recent events in Pakistan have highlighted in such a tragic way.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck the south‐west coast of Bangladesh in November 2007, and Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, were also massive in scale and impact.

In fact, in the past decade, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for about three-quarters of global casualties from natural disasters.

Recovering from such adverse events can take years, and is a drain on already scarce resources.

The longer term impacts of climate change are adding to already existing vulnerabilities.

Rising sea levels threaten the very existence of small islands states, such as the Maldives, and the melting of Himalaya glaciers will pose a serious challenge for many countries.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the total cost of lost agricultural production and other negative impacts from climate change in South-Asia could be as much as 6.7 per cent of GDP in some countries by the end of the century.

What the cyclones, droughts, rising sea levels, and melting of the glaciers show is that climate change is no longer a distant threat. The recent climate-related tragedies give us an insight into what lies ahead and into how important both adaptation and mitigation are. 

The time for urgent action is now. A wide range of approaches is required to address climate vulnerabilities, and, at the same time, sustain and advance MDG achievement.

Allow me to suggest three such approaches:

First, in order to minimize climate vulnerabilities, it is critical to invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.

According to the World Food Programme, some studies suggest that a dollar invested in disaster risk reduction today can save four or more dollars in the future cost of relief and rehabilitation.

Much can be done to reduce the vulnerability of people, livelihoods, assets, and infrastructure to disasters. There is huge value in being prepared for events which may strike at any time.

After the huge loss of life experienced in the cyclone which hit Bangladesh in 1991, the country invested significantly in disaster risk reduction. When the equally strong Cyclone Sidr hit in 2007, the loss of life was a small fraction of the 1991 death toll.

I understand that South Asian countries are now working together to establish a regional programme for early warnings, disaster preparedness, and risk management. The UN development system stands ready to support this important regional initiative.

Second, financial support and technology transfer are key aspects of reducing climate vulnerability.

Without that, developing countries in South Asia and elsewhere will not be able to take adequate action to adapt to and mitigate a changing climate.

Technology transfer will need to include support for activities like improved irrigation systems, access to clean and affordable energy in rural areas, and improved agricultural production.

A new international climate deal which generates significant funding for developing countries would be enormously helpful.

Last, but not least, we need to identify and promote win-win strategies which work simultaneously to achieve and sustain progress on the MDGs and tackle climate change.
 
By building on the synergies between the fight against both poverty and climate change, we can promote climate resilient development.

For instance, in Bangladesh, UNDP is working with the Government to establish coastal greenbelts which serve multiple functions. They will help to trap sediment countering the effects of coastal erosion; they will provide food and fibre products for local communities; and they will serve to reduce pressure on remaining natural forest areas, which can then provide much needed coastal protection.

In recent years, policy reforms in South Asia and elsewhere are seeking to place climate change considerations closer to the centre of economic and social development planning.

This reflects a growing understanding of the need to integrate climate resilience into development strategies in order to sustain hard-won MDG achievements.

Conclusion

Looking ahead, we can expect the impacts of climate change to become increasingly obvious in South Asia and beyond. Without concerted action, that would undermine important MDG achievements.

It has never been more critical to have strong global partnerships which work across sectors to address complex and interlinked problems, and support nations to strengthen their own capacities for resilience and development.

As the Chair of the UN Development Group, let me assure you that all parts of the UN development system are committed to playing a catalytic role in support of national development strategies and MDG achievement.

Thank you