Climate Change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

Submitted by Julia Barrott | published 9th Nov 2015 | last updated 13th May 2019

Introduction

This article reviews climate change within the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (SFDRR), analyzing how climate change is mentioned in the framework’s text and the potential implications for dealing with climate change within the context of disaster risk reduction. Three main categories are examined. First, climate change affecting disaster risk and disasters, demonstrating too much emphasis on the single hazard driver and diminisher of climate change. Second, cross-sectoral approaches, about which the SFDRR treads carefully, thereby unfortunately entrenching artificial differences and divisions, although appropriately offering plenty of support to other sectors from disaster risk reduction. Third, implementation, for which climate change plays a suitable role without being overbearing, but for which other hazard influencers should have been treated similarly.

The article finds that, overall, on the issue of climate change, the SFDRR puts too much emphasis on the hazard part of disaster risk. Instead, within the context of the three global sustainable development processes that seek agreements in 2015, climate change could have been used to further support an all-vulnerabilities and all-resiliences approach. That could be achieved by placing climate change adaptation as one subset within disaster risk reduction and climate change mitigation as one subset within sustainable development. 

Below is an abridged version of the introduction and concluding comments of this article, which was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science in June 2015 (Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 117-127).

The full text, which includes a thorough review of climate change within the SFDRR, can be downloaded from the right-hand column of this page or viewed online via SpringerLink here.

Background to the article

In 2015, three separate global sustainable development processes aimed for long-term agreements. First, in March in Sendai, Japan, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (SFDRR) (UNISDR 2015) laid out a voluntary pathway for the next 15 years of disaster risk reduction, following on from the 10 years of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015 (HFA) (UNISDR 2005). Second, in September, the United Nations General Assembly met  to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals (not yet public), also voluntary and the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (UN 2000), which ran from 2000 to 2015. Third, in Paris, France in December, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will pursue a legally binding treaty for dealing with climate change. While the focus is on climate change mitigation efforts, any agreement could potentially include many elements for climate change adaptation, the reduction of the expected adverse impacts of climate change and the application of possible benefits. 

The separation of these three processes, on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change, has historical and political reasons, but to achieve the goals of each they ought to be joined (Kelman et al. 2015). There is no dispute that some work involving climate change has kept it separate from wider processes, for research, policy, and practice. However, analyses to determine whether they should actually be separate show that climate change and its associated processes are fully embraced by disaster-related efforts (Kelman and Gaillard 2010; Kelman et al. 2015)).  A proposed joining of the two would be to place climate change within disaster work that has two pillars:

  • First, climate change is one hazard driver amongst many; it is one factor influencing certain hazards with the potential to contribute to disasters where vulnerability and exposure exist.
  • Second, climate change adaptation is a subset of disaster risk reduction

A third aspect can be described, placing climate change mitigation within sustainable development since climate change mitigation is the same as pollution prevention, but it focuses on greenhouse gases as specific pollutants.

Despite the strong impetus to retain and entrench the artificial separation amongst the three global processes, the SFDRR nonetheless acknowledges and emphasizes the importance of climate change and sustainable development for disaster risk reduction and vice versa. The challenge is knowing whether the included acknowledgement, emphasis, and crossovers suffice to avoid problems, or whether more harm than good will be done by having three separate agreements— voluntary ones for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development and aiming for a legal one for climate change.

To contribute to such analyses, this article reviews climate change within the SFDRR, analyzing how climate change is mentioned in the framework’s text and the potential implications for dealing with climate change within the context of disaster risk reduction. The article details how climate change does and does not influence disaster risk, then presents and critiques the mentions of climate change in the SFDRR. This is followed by discussion on how climate change is and is not represented and included. The conclusions summarize the implications for the three 2015 processes. 

Concluding comments

While it is understandable why the SFDRR is so careful in its politics by accepting the separation of climate change from disaster risk reduction, the SFDRR is found lacking an appropriate framing of climate change. The overall focus of the SFDRR’s recommendations on tackling root causes of disaster risk, namely vulnerability, is welcome, but that is undermined by keeping one hazard driver/diminisher (climate change) divorced from that work due to the separate intergovernmental process. While few practical options are available with which to change the situation, climate change as a separate entity is now accepted and engraved for at least the next 15 years.

Similar challenges emerge for the third global process in 2015, that of the Sustainable Development Goals. While it is possible that the final accepted version of the goals will rectify some of the concerns, given the drafts so far it seems that the Sustainable Development Goals will also cement for the next 15 years, perhaps longer, since the asterisk to draft Goal 13 explicitly separates climate change from wider sustainable development processes. Neither the Sustainable Development Goals nor the SFDRR even raise the question of why their agreements continue to be voluntary while climate change aims for a legally binding accord.

As noted at the outset, the world’s sustainable development endeavours are left with stark contrasts even though, together, the trio of processes and agreements from 2015 converges and culminates a generation’s work on sustainability. The fear is that the convergence will end in 2015, followed by a divergence to parallel routes, albeit with some bridges. Those bridges will be built by those practitioners and administrators who continue to try to connect the topics and processes, recognizing that they all have common goals and common pathways, with the separation being political and territorial rather than practical.