Letters from Sendai – n°9
Reflection on WCDRR targets
The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai will not be remembered as a major breakthrough. Little decisiveness remained in the finally agreed text of the DRR Framework 2015-2030 at the end of a marathon negotiation that stretched out until late hours on the last conference day, and presented to the relatively small audience of participants that remained to learn the outcomes. Arguably the Framework does not deliver on its own ambition of being ‘action-oriented’, nor does it succeed to address DRR with ‘a renewed sense of urgency’ to which it was summoned by the Earth Summit 2012. At the end, some of the most contentious issues that congested the negotiation have been settled by endorsing all principles included in the (non-binding) outcome document of the Earth Summit, but without using their language explicitly.
The Framework laid down seven targets against which the progress should be monitored and assessed. As a drawback compared to the initial aspirations, none of the targets specifies a quantitative degree of progress to be made. Instead, the text resorts to ‘substantial’ qualifier of advancement. The first 5 years of the Framework are intended as a run-up time for putting in place the national and local DRR strategies, while their attainments over 2020-2030 will be compared with the 2005-2015 baseline. Worse, in most cases the targets are specified as collective (global) outcomes, rather than individual country-based achievements.
Attached tables compare the target definition in zero-draft, released on October 20th, 2014, with the draft text that served as a basis for the conference negotiation (dated January 28, 2015), and the finally adopted text (as on March 18, 2015). Hereafter these are referred to as zero-draft, draft and final text respectively.
In the zero-draft, the first four targets were defined as relative improvements in function of the number of disaster events experienced. It is certainly laudable to specify the progress quantitatively, but the way the zero-draft quantified relative attainments is neither practical nor useful. How often the hazard strikes and where is a result of underlying stochastic processes. The only way of taking that into account would have been to consider the annual expected value (AEV) in terms of mortality, affected population, and economic damage or loss. But that would require a good knowledge of risk which is not available even in many developed countries.
The draft version gave up this ambition as well as the countries’ individual commitments towards these ends. Instead, it grounded the assessment on the collective achievements of all countries as what would have counted to prove the progress was the progress made globally. Besides, the wording of the draft text would have implied that not the average but the lowest annual outcome over the period 2020-2030 would have counted for the assessment of success. That means that any individual year with a low incidence of disasters worldwide could have been selectively picked up to claim the accomplishment. The finally adopted target conceptually better defined, as it takes into account the changing population and wealth. Because it adopts the collective nature of achievements made, it allows for compensation to succeed. This means that greater achievements in one country or region can compensate the less-than-expected outcomes elsewhere. Granted, the individual measurement of achievements can complement the global assessments and isolate the underperformers. And the low performance of few would not preclude achieving the overall goal.
Another weak point is that the normalized (i.e. adjusted for changes in population and wealth) estimates may not be good proxies of changes of population or wealth exposed to risk. That means that small but positive increase of population in slums in high-risk prone areas can be compensated by larger overall population growth. So the target can be achieved with little or no additional effort if all other conditions remain constant. The same holds true for economic development. Whether the target will be achieved will be essentially determined by the pace in growth of gross domestic product (GDP) and in the economic damage experienced.
All these difficulties apply to the target 4 as well. In addition to them, this target does not have an easy-to-determine baseline nor there an unambiguous measure of risk or impact. The target 5 is relatively easy to monitor. However, the final Framework resorts to the same ways of monitoring the quality and implementation of the DRR strategies as the previous framework 2005-2015, generally admitted as being too weak: self-reporting or, in addition, voluntary and self-initiated peer reviews.
Targets 6 and 7 were not included in the zero-draft and were only added during the subsequent negotiation prior the conference. In the draft text, the target 6 resorted to the language of the 2012 Earth Summit outcome document ‘Future We Want’.
The draft text of the target 6 reiterated the same language by demanding adequate, timely and predictable resources; and requested to step up these resources, not only in financial transfers but also in terms of ‘technical assistance, technology transfer, capacity building and training programmes’.
These deliberations on the Sendai targets were expectedly overshadowed by key global summits to happen this busy year: The “Financing for Development” conference in Addis Ababa, which is expected to set out a framework and ground rules for supporting the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (to be accepted in September in New York; and the Paris Climate Summit, which many hope will lead to a new global deal on climate change.
Accordingly, discussions were then characterised by a rift between developing and developed countries. With many climate negotiators present in the halls, the deliberations started out with heavily-climate-colored language framed around the ‘common-but differentiated responsibilities’ subclause, which is fundamental to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the original division into developed (responsible for the problem) and developing (faced with the impacts).
Naturally, this language was deleted, but some watered-down text ended up as one of 7 targets (page 7) “(f) Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this framework by 2030.”
Originally, the qualifier “mutually agreeable” was proposed by developed countries, which led over-time discussions, and finally was also taken out. Yet, proponents of a stronger language succeeded to include among the principles of the new DRR Framework an explicit endorsement of all principles contained in the ‘Future We Want’ document as well as the principles sanctioned by the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Overall, the finally approved text, while vague, seems to hold potential in terms of representing place-holder language that can inform the SDG and particularly climate debates, including discussions regarding the Loss&Damage mechanism. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks, how the Finance for development and Climate debates will refer to the Sendai debates.
By ENHANCE project partners –
Jaroslav Mysiak, Annegret Thieken, Swenja Surminski, Reinhard Mechler, Cédric Hananel
Resources & references
Access all letters here.
Letter n°1 – 2015 as a pivotal year for global climate risk management?
Letter n°2 – Risk Assessment
Letter n°3 – Let’s do it together – but how? Multi-sectoral partnerships – the case of insurance
Letter n°4 – towards more holistic decision-making
Letter n°5 – A new perspective on disaster risk management and development: Unlocking the Triple Resilience Dividend?
Letter n°6 – Post 2015 DRR Framework in a stalemate negotiation
Letter n°7 – Incentivising risk reduction?
Letter n°8 – The post-2015 DRR framework got a new name: Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030