29 September 2008
I am pleased to welcome all of you to this meeting.
Climate change is the defining issue of our era. Natural hazards are a perennial concern. This discussion brings the two issues together, and with good reason: Better disaster risk reduction will also help us adapt to climate change.
Almost every day brings reports of serious damage and loss of life during a storm, flood, drought or other natural hazard. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen massive flooding in northern India and extensive damage from tropical storms Gustav, Hanna and Ike in the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of people have been affected.
Climate change will make matters worse. Without concerted action, we could see natural catastrophes on an unprecedented scale, which could even become threats to international security and inter-state relations.
But such dire scenarios need not come to pass. Prudent policies and well-informed community action can save lives and avert damage.
For example, death rates from floods and droughts plummeted worldwide in the 20th century as a result of improved systems for river management, early warning and evacuation, and food security.
Wise land-use planning and the enforcement of sound building codes have also reduced impacts and costs. These are practical and cost-effective everyday solutions.
Unfortunately, no matter how much we do in the next few years to control greenhouse gas emissions -- and we must do a lot -- the global climate will continue to change.
More extreme weather is in store: more heat waves, droughts and water shortages; more intense rainfalls, flooding and landslides.
Such changes have started already. The frequency of disasters caused by floods and storms has risen steadily in recent years. The average annual price tag -- more than 80 billion dollars -- makes this the largest source of disaster costs. It is more urgent than ever to step up our preparations.
The good news is that a natural hazard does not automatically have to lead to a disaster. Countries such as Bangladesh, Cuba, Jamaica, Madagascar and the Philippines have shown that good building designs, proper land-use planning, public education, community preparedness and effective early warning systems can reduce the impact of severe weather events.
Indeed, a large body of successful experience in reducing disaster risks offers important tools and lessons for our efforts to adapt to climate change.
Risk reduction not only saves lives, it is also less expensive than responding to a disaster. Estimates suggest that incorporating comprehensive disaster protection into new health facilities and schools would add only 4 percent to their cost.
A number of countries have reduced the impact of disasters by investing in measures such as flood control, hurricane-proof building design, and protection of coastal ecosystems, including mangroves and coral reefs. I hope to hear more about such experiences from you today.
Almost four years have passed since the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Many states have made good progress in integrating risk reduction into national development plans and poverty reduction strategies.
UN agencies have sought to ensure that their efforts are in line with the Hyogo Framework. Still, the world is not yet on track to achieve the Framework's desired outcome of a substantial reduction of losses by 2015. A major scaling up of efforts and resources is needed.
I am heartened that the Bali Action Plan of the Framework Convention on Climate Change includes specific language on disaster risk reduction. The subject will be the focus of a workshop at the climate change meeting in Poznan in December.
I call on you to lead the way in championing disaster risk reduction as a core element of climate change adaptation. I also urge you to implement the policies and practices of disaster risk reduction as a first line defence in adapting to climate change. These are important investments in the protection of your people.
I assure you of my strong commitment to this effort, and I look forward to working with you in response to this quintessential global challenge.
Thank you very much.