While climate change impacts are inevitable, disasters are not – as long as early action is taken

28 October, 2021
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It’s becoming increasingly feasible to predict when and where a major weather event is going to happen, so why aren’t more governments taking early action to stop loss of life and livelihoods? 
People in a canoe in a flooded street

Looking at press coverage in the run-up to COP26, I’ve seen a lot of stories about how to reduce carbon emissions and how to prevent climate change. These are important conversations to be having, but they’re missing an important part of the picture – how to cope with the extreme weather events we know we’re going to experience in the years ahead.  

A significant proportion of climate change is already ‘baked in’, meaning that some impacts are inevitable. That is not to say that we shouldn’t do all we can to reduce emissions further – we absolutely must do this. But at the same time, we have to respond quicker and more effectively to those extreme weather events we can predict. Some impact may be inevitable; but disaster can be avoided. 

In 2020, more than 30 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters. By 2030, some 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030. But it’s not just the poorest countries that are being affected. This year’s devastating floods in Europe and the deadly heat wave in North America have shown that developed countries alike are also exposed.  

We need to adapt as a matter of urgency. 

There’s not just a moral imperative here – there’s a financial one too. The sum of annual adaptation costs in developing countries is estimated at US$70bn, rising to US$300bn by 2030. 

Early warning and early action will help bring that figure down. The projected Benefit : Cost ratio of strengthening early warning systems, for example, is approximately 1:10 – i.e. for every $1 invested, $10 will be saved.  


The Benefit:Cost ratio of strengthening early warning systems

We applaud the action being taken around the world to improve early warning system alerts when we know that there are extreme weather events on the horizon. However, they are only as useful as the early action they trigger in response. We also need to make sure that people and communities are given the tools and resources they need to react accordingly.  

For example, in Bangladesh last year, forecasts suggested floods would hit particular rural communities. Armed with this knowledge, the UN CERF (UN Central Emergency Response Fund) was able to quickly get support to these communities via partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), Red Cross and other local actors, helping save lives, homes and businesses in the process. Evaluations suggest that as well as reducing people’s vulnerability to the floods, this early action also enabled them to recover more quickly from the damage that did occur.  

The evidence shows that early action saves lives and livelihoods, protects development and resilience gains, is cost effective, and enables faster, cheaper and more dignified humanitarian assistance. 

Yet, despite this, too few governments are taking early action seriously. Currently there is not enough money being invested in the tools and technologies needed, and the approaches that have been tried and tested all too often remain in pilot or project level, with actors continuing to work in silos.  

If we are to realise the benefits of risk-informed early action then we need to take this to scale – and quickly.  

This was the motivation behind the launch of REAP, which has seen more than 50 governments from developed and developing countries, international organisations, civil society actors and private sector representatives from across climate, humanitarian, development and meteorological communities join forces to drive large-scale, long-term change.  

Our aim is to generate the political momentum and enabling environment needed to ensure relevant actors have the motivation to, and resources necessary, to adopt risk-informed early action approaches as a default so that one billion more people can be safer from disaster by 2025.   

At COP26, we’ll be highlighting how the race to resilience is just as important as the race to zero. We will cast a vision of what risk-informed early action at scale looks like, making the case for further investment given its role in supporting adaptation to the changing climate. We will showcase the fantastic work of our partners from around the world who are already realizing the benefits of early and anticipatory approaches, making communities more resilient. And we'll be providing an opportunity for new members to join and for supporters of early action to make further pledges of support and commitments towards the 4 targets.

There are two core elements needed to make this happen. Money and trust. We need the richer countries to meet their promises regarding the pledge of $100bn climate finance, and for this finance to have both a greater focus on adaptation measures and for it to be more accessible to vulnerable countries. By delivering this, it will show that their word can be trusted – essential if people are going to have the confidence that the severity of the situation facing the world is acknowledged and understood.  

It is becoming increasingly feasible to predict when a major weather event is going to happen. If we know there is a credible forecast that something is going to happen, why would we not take action and respond?  

REAP is open to all countries, organisations and initiatives that share in its ambition to make one billion people safer from disasters. If you’re interested in becoming a partner, you can find out more here