Now is the time to climate proof Eastern Europe and Central Asia
19 Oct 2016 by Armen Grigoryan, Team Leader, Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDP Europe and Central Asia
Two years ago I remember watching catastrophic rains swallow entire swathes of land in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia. Most of northern Bosnia was flooded. Thousands of people lost their homes. And in Serbia, the damage was estimated at 1.5 billion euros.
The following year, it was Albania’s turn, then Tajikistan followed suit with the worst mud flows the country has ever seen. Finally, this summer, a thunderstorm dropped 93 litres of rain for every square metre of the capital, Skopje, within the space of a single night.
Whether we are talking about drought, failing crops, rising temperatures or the resurgence or appearance of new diseases, the list of possible climate catastrophes is long.
According to some analyses, the crisis in Syria, which has caused thousands of people to cross the Western Balkans in search of better lives in northern Europe, also has root causes associated with climate change.
It’s no secret that climate-related disasters are becoming more common and more devastating.
From a human development standpoint, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which I cover at UNDP, has been progressing rapidly on many development indicators. There has been significant poverty reduction, narrowing income gaps, relatively low gender disparities – but as our most recent report will show, many of these advances are under threat.
If unchecked, climate change is likely to make matters exponentially worse. As the Paris Agreement comes into effect, it’s time to dramatically step up our work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to the consequences of a changing climate.
The humanitarian system is overwhelmingly focused on reacting once a crisis occurs. Only 40 cents in every US$100 spent on aid goes to disaster risk reduction, yet disasters have cost developing countries a total of US$1 trillion over the last 20 years.
At UNDP we’re trying to change that thinking.
Take the Caucasus. Just last month, the government of Armenia, supported by UNDP, received a historic US$20 million grant from the Green Climate Fund to increase energy efficiency in buildings and reduce CO2 emissions. This will be complemented by US$8 million in co-financing from the Municipality of Yerevan. It’s a game-changing intervention that will inspire other countries from the region to follow Armenia’s lead.
Or Central Asia. With support from Japan and UNDP, the Government of Tajikistan is boosting its support for search and rescue teams, improving weather data collection and thinking of brand new ways of disseminating warning messages to local populations.
If there was one takeaway from the 213 projects we have been carrying out in the region, it would be that disaster responses and climate change activities are two sides of the same coin and need to be tackled jointly.
While the big decisions were taken in the Paris Agreement which will now enter into force in an unprecedentedly quick time, the next Conference of Parties (COP) should make significant progress in the operationalization of the world’s climate agenda. So here are a few recommendations as we prepare for COP22, to be held in November in Marrakesh, Morocco.
First, reducing risk is the best way to adapt to a changing climate. Resilience to disasters no longer means anticipating and responding to sudden catastrophes, but acting now to limit their impact. This means that every development plan should be disaster-proof.
Second, municipalities have played a pioneering role in mitigating climate change and should be at the centre of all efforts to reduce disaster risks, due to their local knowledge and proximity to people. We should empower and equip them to build better infrastructure, as well as alert and response mechanisms.
Third, we should invest now, and save later. Disaster and climate resilience require significant start-up investments, but if appropriately targeted, they will eventually be cost-effective.
We will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if climate-related disasters keep wiping out development gains and taking us back to square one. But if we act now, climate-proofing the Goals will be within reach.