2023 Yearender: Missing links on climate change

Emad El-Din Adly, Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

With the rise in the number of climate-related disasters and extreme weather-related events, it is essential that the relevant actors come together to prepare for and mitigate their effects, writes Emad El-Din Adly

Missing links on climate change

 

Not that long ago, it was rare to hear talk of a climate disaster striking some part or other of the world. Most people were not even familiar with the concept as something distinct from natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions or even meteorological disasters like hurricanes, monsoons, and floods.

As these occurred seasonally anyway, there was always a certain predictability about them, giving communities the chance to prepare or to relocate temporarily to safe areas.

However, recent years have brought an unprecedented rise in the number of climate-related disasters and a growing number of extreme weather-related events in unexpected areas. As such freak events have generally been unforeseen, the loss of life, material damage, and economic losses that have come about as a result have been much greater than might otherwise have been the case.

Not even the most pessimistic forecaster expected that Hurricane Daniel, which struck the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean in September, would wreak such massive destruction in the coastal areas of eastern Libya. During what proved to be one of the worst ever natural disasters to strike an Arab country, the hurricane’s torrential rain caused two dams to collapse, unleashing a wall of water that carried away everything and everyone in its path.

In the aftermath of the storm, the eastern Libyan city of Derna was described in the media as looking like a scene from the apocalypse. According to official Libyan sources, around 12,000 people drowned or were crushed to death under the rubble of destroyed buildings during the storm. International risk-management companies estimated that Hurricane Daniel caused $4.3 billion in damage in eastern Libya.

Hurricanes are unusual in the Mediterranean Basin, but according to UN relief agencies, Hurricane Daniel displaced more than 43,000 people after washing away a third of Derna. More than 156,000 people required humanitarian assistance in Derna, Gabal Al-Akhdar, and other areas affected by floods.

Some countries in the Arab region experienced climate-related threats before this happened, from lengthy droughts in the Horn of Africa, which drove up the number of people facing severe food shortages and starvation in Somalia, to the floods that struck parts of western Sudan, or the drought that displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Darfur, which has also been plagued by civil strife for almost 20 years.

Sudan is remarkable in that it combines both extremes: torrential rains and flooding in one area and drought and unusually high temperatures in another. International organisations have ranked it as the country most impacted by climate change in Africa. One organisation warned that large tracts of Sudan could become unsuitable for human habitation, generating large waves of human displacement towards urban areas on both sides of the Nile.

While most, if not all, natural disasters cannot be prevented, it is possible to adopt policies to mitigate their adverse effects, minimise the human and economic losses, and enhance resilience. To be effective, such policies must engage all the relevant actors, especially civil society organisations which have the ability to reach local communities quickly and are often better placed to mobilise collective efforts and marshal resources.

A prime example of this is the Arab Network for Environment and Development (RAED), which brings together many civil society organisations from different Arab countries as part of a wider effort to reduce the risks of climate disaster. RAED took part in formulating the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was adopted at the UN Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, on 18 March 2015. The framework includes a 15-year programme of action until 2030.

As a member of a global network of civil society organisations concerned with risk reduction, RAED helped carry out the Views from the Frontline Programme that aims to strengthen partnerships and cooperation between vulnerable groups, civil society, and government agencies through a systematic, participatory approach to the design and implementation of risk-reduction policies and the strengthening individual and communal resilience.

RAED was also a member of the Arab Coordination Mechanism for Disaster Risk Reduction, in which capacity it contributed to the formulation and adoption of the first Arab Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction. This strategy, which translated the political will and commitments made at the highest levels in the Arab region, bridges the Sendai Framework and the national disaster risk reduction strategies adopted by individual Arab states. RAED aims to engage all those involved in crisis management in processes that seek to strengthen the resilience of societies and communities in the face of various disasters.

The Arab Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction helps integrate and harmonise assessment, monitoring, and follow-up procedures involving the different dimensions of disaster risk reduction at the national and regional levels. It takes into account the specific circumstances and priorities of the Arab region and the various political, economic, environmental, social and health challenges associated with it, as well as the capacities and challenges of individual Arab states. Implementation mechanisms vary from one country to the next and even within a single country.

The increasing number of warnings from international organisations and experts that current policies on climate change are not enough to avert disastrous consequences from global warming in the near future should compel us to work with greater determination and urgency than ever to develop and implement more effective policies. Indeed, we should make transitioning to such policies a vital part of climate advocacy.

Given the world’s growing record of climatic extremes and the disasters they can wreak, every country should waste no time in developing a national strategy on disaster risk reduction and translating that into feasible mitigation programmes. The latter should be overseen by executive bodies endowed with the necessary authority to perform their tasks effectively and to coordinate with all the parties concerned, from government agencies to civil society organisations, schools and universities, and with other entities that could contribute to enhancing the resilience of local communities.

All subsidiary agencies involved in implementing such national strategies for disaster reduction should be closely linked to organisations carrying out national climate change strategies to ensure consistency in the pursuit of the desired goals. The functions and responsibilities of each agency or party concerned should also be clearly defined so as to effectively channel efforts to enhance preparedness in the event of a possible climate-related disaster.

Areas of responsibility might include disaster mitigation, encouraging lifestyle changes, mobilising available resources and technologies to ward off human losses and mass displacements, and public awareness-raising.

Closer cooperation between the Arab countries, which has long been an aspiration among the peoples of this region, is crucial to mustering the necessary resources to strengthen preparedness and resilience. However, the wealthy nations must also do their part in helping the developing nations with financing, in keeping with the established principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Under international environmental law, this principle means that a country that is responsible for causing 80 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions should bear that degree of responsibility in countering the adverse impacts of climate change.

The Loss and Damage Fund adopted on the first day of the recent UN COP28 Climate Conference in Dubai might be able to help bridge the funding gap. As countries step forward to contribute to the fund, the Arab countries should act to ensure that they play a part in administering it, and the institutions concerned with the financing mechanisms must have the ability to perform their specified roles efficiently and competently.

 

The writer is chairman of the Trustees of the Egyptian Sustainable Development Forum.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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