Facing Nature's Wrath: Dealing with Climate Change and Its Effects

Extreme weather events like Typhoon Haiyan are a wake up call for urgent and immediate action not only on integrated disaster risk management, but also on addressing climate change.

Date: 28 November 2013

Harumi Kodama: Hello and welcome to ADB's live chat "Facing Nature's Wrath: Dealing with Climate Change and Its Effects." I'm Harumi Kodama from ADB's Department of External Relations. I'm joined today by Preety Bhandari, Advisor and Head of ADB's Climate Change Program Coordination Unit, and Charlotte Benson, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist in ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department.

Charlotte Benson: Hi, I am Charlie Benson. I'm looking forward to a lively discussion with you all!

Preety Bhandari: Hello. Welcome to the live chat. Look forward to engaging with you on the subject.

Harumi: The first question is from Tengku Noor Shamsiah from Malaysian National News. As we have seen natural disasters like typhoons, floods and earthquakes have been occurring frequently these days with the latest, Typhoon Haiyan, striking the Philippines. Can you kindly explain why this has happened? Is there a way to solve such problems? Do you think that countries in Asia and the Pacific have done their utmost to strike a balance between development and environment? What are your comments?

Charlotte: The rapid rise in disaster losses in recent years may partly reflect a bunching of more extreme hazard events, including earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as climate hazards. However, it's also due to a rise in the number of people and assets in high risk areas, most obviously on coastlines, and related environmental degradation. To stem this rise, we need to think far more about disaster risk when we decide precisely where to locate our homes, schools, factories and so on, and how we design them.

Tufail: Hello Harumi, Preety, Charlotte. This is Tufail from Pakistan

Harumi: Hi, Tufail. Do you have a question for our experts?

Harumi: Another question from Tengku. For countries like Malaysia for instance, how do you regard the government's efforts in addressing climate change? Part of the country usually faces flooding which is not only confined to the monsoon season. Is there any solution for Malaysia to avoid this occurring?

Preety: Thank you Tengku. Malaysia has submitted its second national communications to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011, and in this communication apart from its plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, it has clearly outlined its vulnerability and adaptation assessment in the context of climate change.

Preety: The Government clearly articulates structural and non-structural responses to manage floods. This includes a review of flood management plans and integrity of structures; design standards for new infrastructure; improved rainfall, flood forecasting, and disaster warnings; and flood hazard mapping, all of which form part of an integrated disaster prevention and management plan. Implementation of the foregoing will enable a comprehensive approach to the issue you have raised.

Margaret: Hello everyone, I am Margaret from the Philippines. Glad to be able to participate in this live chat.

Harumi: Hi, Margaret. If you have a question, please shoot.

Tufail: Yes, I live in Karachi, very near the sea. We have homes built with RCC structure. How do you propose we build our homes? There are many food restaurants, shopping malls, MNC offices near the sea.

Charlotte: Hi Tufail, First of all, you need to choose the location carefully, based on local hazard risk maps for your locality. You then need to consider the design of your house, taking into account all types of hazards experienced in your area. For floods, elevated buildings are obviously key. Tree planting is important too.

Dave: Hi, thanks Charlotte for your answer above to Tengku. It seems there is a fairly good understanding of the sorts of things that should and should not be done in terms of avoiding the worst impacts of storms, etc. Are more and more communities and governments doing the right things these days? If not why aren't the lessons being learned? How can this change? Thanks

Charlotte: Hi, Dave. More and more communities and governments are doing the right sort of thing. One of the problems, though, is that people often have more pressing immediate concerns and don't recognize the need to address disaster risk until a disaster has already happened.

Harumi: This one is from Sylvia. With COP-19 over, what is ADB's take on its outcome, including the proposed new framework of 'loss and damage' climate financing?

Preety: Sylvia, The climate conference in Warsaw represented perhaps minimal progress on the way to the 2015 deadline for a new climate deal. However, importantly, it did maintain the minimum political momentum required to keep the multilateral process moving.

Preety: The conference's biggest achievement is the establishment of an international mechanism to address loss and damage from the impacts of climate change. However, no associated financing and other means of implementation have been agreed upon as yet. The framework for REDD+ agreed at the COP is also a gain on mitigation of emissions.

Preety: However, the conference fell short on ambitious mitigation commitments towards the 2 degree C goal. There were no new financial commitments, nor a road map to reach the $100 billion target, although the call for "a very significant scale" of initial funding for the Green Climate Fund by COP 20 in 2014, and additional pledges for the Adaptation Fund is very much welcome.

Tufail: We often hear that Pakistan will be affected by climate change and the country’s mangroves are becoming seriously depleted. Will that increase the likelihood of typhoons, tsunamis?

Charlotte: Hi Tufail, Mangrove depletion as such does not increase the probability of a typhoon nor a tsunami. However, mangrove depletion will increase the impact ―that is the extent of damage― of the event as it removes a protective barrier.

Margarita: Hi. How do you think can journalists better report and communicate climate change to the public, especially vulnerable coastal communities?

Preety: Margarita you have very rightly pointed to the need for communicating climate change to the general public in an easy and digestible manner. This will not only help create awareness of the likely impacts, and personalize the losses that may occur but it will also highlight what they can do in their individual capacity to reduce carbon emissions through life style changes. Journalists have a key role to play in communicating these facts.

Dave: Hi Charlotte, thanks. What can be done to change attitudes? Is it possible to identify a key blockage ― not enough money? Not enough information? Not enough fear of the next big storm/quake/flood?

Charlotte: Hi Dave, at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to money. If you have a choice between spending on something that reaps immediate benefits, such as a new health clinic, or something that may not reap benefits for many years, like a sea wall, then people often opt for the first one. We need to better educate everyone, in all walks of life, that risk reduction can pay back with enormous returns should a disaster strike, and that we need to take this longer-term perspective in order to ensure sustainable socioeconomic growth.

Christine: What is the role of the private sector in helping communities deal with the effects of climate change?

Preety: Thanks Christine for bringing up the role of the private sector in dealing with climate change. The private sector has to ensure that they use best available clean technologies in production, heed building codes and coastal zoning insofar as hotels and the tourism sector is concerned, and help build climate resilience in communities where they operate.

Nash: Hi everyone! My name's Nash from the Philippines. Just curious about how best to include disaster preparedness into our curriculums. Is this necessary?

Charlotte: Hi Nash, Schools can do a lot to promote greater disaster risk awareness, disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Starting with the latter, many schools already do regular disaster drills, for instance, earthquake drills. Geography and science curriculums can teach pupils at all levels in the education system about natural hazards and the factors that combine with hazard events ―exposure and vulnerability― to turn them into disasters. Social studies can also address the issue, looking at consequences of disasters. Risk reduction, too, can be covered in a range of subjects’ ―for instance, geography, social studies, and design technology― equipping children with skills and ideas that they can immediately implement. For example, they can encourage their own families to store rain water and plant trees.

Nash: Thanks Charlotte. I’m looking into a more holistic way of driving the message across, noting that a lot of the problems also stem from the decision to work in silos. Public, private, government, nongovernment organizations, it would be great if we worked side by side.

Charlotte: Hi Nash, Absolutely. We all need to work together in close coordination, ensuring that different activities at different levels of government and wider society are complementary and working towards a shared vision of a resilient future.

Margaret: It is obvious that the international community is doing something to alleviate, or at least lessen, the negative impacts of climate change. However how can we penetrate the grassroots in changing lifestyles/behavior towards the environment/community?

Preety: Margaret you have very rightly underscored the importance for each of us as individuals to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, and to have sustainable consumption patterns. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi the earth has enough for man's need but not man's greed!

Jude: Preety, thank you for pointing out that individuals can reduce their carbon emissions through life style changes. That sounds just what the No Impact Project is advocating.

Harumi: A question sent in earlier by Prime Sarmiento from Xinhua News Agency. What do local and national governments need to focus on in preparing for extreme weather events caused by climate change?

Charlotte: Hi Prime, There's loads they can do. For instance, they can build disaster risk considerations into land use planning, national and local development plans, and budgets. They can ensure that sufficient building codes are in place and take measures to ensure they are followed. They can explore disaster risk in designing new investment projects. Resilience of lifeline infrastructure ―evacuation centers, hospitals, major roads and bridges and so on― is particularly important.

Chely Esguerra (@chelyesguerra) via Twitter: How do we encourage climate change organizations to see youth as an empowered partner and not as a liability in times of natural disasters?

Preety: Chely, the youth are quite involved in the response to climate change. The YOUNGO constituency in the climate negotiations is a network of youths urging action on climate change. They actively participate in the climate conferences, highlighting that it is their future that is at stake and that of future generations. They have been very vocal and effective and I wish them more power. There are such chapters in many countries, including developing countries, which is a heartening development.

Chely Esguerra: Thanks, Preety. I agree that there is a lot of youth-led action on climate change. I just hope that this kind of movement permeates into the big plans of the government because most of it begins and ends in civil society. A push and inclusion by various governments, I imagine, would make a great deal of difference.

Nash: I share Chely's concerns. Perhaps more investment and guidance for young people to carry out their projects is needed? I feel sometimes that youth have so much potential that isn't really directed. The result is projects which are often not sustainable. They look good in print but there is a lack of follow up. I see the value in youth empowerment.

Jan: Anthropogenic climate change is said to be caused by increased carbon emissions resulting from the use of dirty energy.

Harumi: This question came through Facebook from Ram Thorwat. Tropical cyclones Phylin and Helan, and cloud bursts in Uttarakhand in India have impacted millions of people. What's the strategy of ADB to help India?

Charlotte: Hi, Ram. Under ADB's Country Partnership Strategy (2013-2017) for India, we are supporting the country to strengthen flood risk management in the context of integrated water resource management and urban development. ADB is also providing assistance for the restoration of roads and bridges; urban infrastructure; tourism infrastructure and trekking routes; and improved capacity for disaster preparedness following the 2013 Uttarakhand disaster. The extent of the impact of this event was largely a consequence of unplanned development. ADB will incorporate build-back-better measures into reconstruction activity, strengthening resilience both to future extreme rainfall events and earthquakes.

Jan: What are governments doing to reduce carbon emissions in their countries?

Preety: Jan, governments across the board have devised plans for nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Some have also integrated climate change planning into their development plans, recognizing how developmental goals could be influenced by climate change. In the context of climate negotiations governments have submitted their pledges to reduce emissions. These pledges collectively, however, according to analysis undertaken by UNEP, still leave a gap of 8-12 Giga tonnes of carbon in 2020 that are needed to avoid a temperature increase of 2 degree centigrade.

Christine: From a DRM perspective, how should governments address the issue of urban slums?

Charlotte: Hi Christine, Urban slums are clearly an important aspect of DRM. They are often located in some of the most hazard-prone parts of cities and, of course, are occupied by people with very weak coping mechanisms. How to tackle this issue is enormously complex. People want to be near their places of work, not relocated a number of miles away.

Naeeda Crishna: Hi Preety, Charlotte. Naeeda here (based in Thailand): What role is ADB taking in driving climate change mitigation and climate resilient investments in its DMCs? Is this going to become an important area for the bank over the next few years?

Preety: ADB's long-term strategy for 2008-2010 places emphasis on addressing climate change. Based on our mid-term review of this strategy, we are set to further intensify our support for developing member countries to transition to low carbon growth, and to enhance their resilience to adverse climate impacts. ADB is set to sharpen its focus on integration of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation; comprehensive climate risk management; and enhancing readiness for scaled up climate finance, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport.

Harumi: This is from Seong Hee Chae. As much as it is important to find measures to prevent adversarial impacts from climate change, I believe we also need to put more effort into developing quick and effective responses to natural disasters. What can ADB's role be in planning humanitarian logistics and relief efforts that can be optimized by making decisions in a quick manner with other international agencies such as UN's WFP, in advance?

Charlotte: Hi Seong Hee. ADB focuses on its particular areas of expertise and strengths in responding to disasters. It is not a humanitarian relief agency and does not get involved in immediate post-disaster relief efforts. However, it can support countries in preparing financially for disasters and helping to ensure that there are timely financial resources available to respond to disasters. It also supports governments in assessing damage and needs, in determining recovery and reconstruction plans, and in implementing them.

Jeff: COP19 is regarded by many as a failure on many fronts. Are there any key takeaways that governments can learn from when they come back to the negotiation table?

Preety: Jeff, I share your concern that COP 19 did not accomplish as much as it should have given that the new climate deal has to be agreed by 2015. There are just 3, or a maximum of 4, negotiating sessions left to carve out a draft negotiating text by the next Conference in 2014. If they do not reveal the range of actions and commitments in a transparent manner by the middle of next year, the entire schedule and timetable for a climate deal in 2015 will be at risk. And these commitments need to include a plan for financing and other means of implementation.

Harumi: Here is a question emailed to us from Pisey Hoeung. I am wondering whether we have any preventive actions and countermeasures in place in case the same disasters happen elsewhere in the Asia and Pacific region?

Charlotte: Hi Pisey, There's lots that can be done at many levels, including by individuals, communities and businesses, as well as by governments. We can begin by assessing disaster risk, drawing on local knowledge and experience, as well as using hazard maps and understanding the risk in our communities. We can take measures to ensure that our schools, homes, places of work and so forth are resilient, both by undertaking structural measures and through environmental measures. We can think about the consequences of our actions for disaster risk. For instance, will the construction of a new road trap excess water and create new problems of localized flooding?

Harumi: This is from Jed. It is apparent that a wider range of disaster risk financing instruments are needed for Asia and the Pacific, which lags other regions in developing innovative financial solutions for disaster resilience. Less than 5% of disaster losses in developing Asia are insured compared to 40% in developed countries. How is ADB assisting Asian countries in this area?

Charlotte: Hi Jed, You're right disaster risk insurance penetration is very low in developing countries in Asia and the Pacific. Market-based disaster risk financing is a relatively new area for ADB but one where we plan to become increasingly active over the next decade. We are providing technical support to establish several pilot weather-index crop insurance schemes. We are also supporting the development of disaster risk financing options for a number of Asian cities and an earthquake insurance scheme for the Philippines.

Maryelle: Hi, I imagine that using more renewable energy and less fossil fuel energy would help reduce climate change. But in many Asian emerging countries, fuel subsidies are still very large, and much larger than renewable subsidies, thereby limiting the development of the renewable sector. How can governments switch from fossil fuel subsidies to renewable subsidies, and help develop the renewable sector?

Preety: Maryelle, G 20 has taken up the agenda of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in all countries. Some have begun to take action. We need to appreciate that the removal of fossil fuel subsidies implies providing alternative fuels to consumers, and this redistribution could involve support for renewables in the form of instruments such as feed-in tariffs and renewable energy portfolio standards.

Harumi: This is from Tengku of Malaysian National News. In terms of regional cooperation within the ASEAN member states in addressing climate change, do you think they have done enough? Or are they slow in implementing measures? Take, for example, tackling haze which blanketed Singapore and many parts of Malaysia, All ASEAN members, except Indonesia are yet to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. From what I am aware Indonesia hopes to ratify it by 2015, what is your opinion on the matter. Can you kindly specify any solution for tackling the haze issue?

Preety: Tengku, ASEAN countries at the end of their 23rd summit in 2013 issued declarations agreeing to increase cooperation on disaster management and transboundary haze monitoring, as well as to further develop the ASEAN Community's Post-2015 Vision. They also reiterated the effective implementation of the ASEAN Action Plan for Joint Response on Climate Action with a particular emphasis on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. For the countries to agree on declarations related to regional public good, such as trans-boundary pollution and climate change, is a sign of their commitment and maturity in taking collective action, to my mind.

Harumi: Here is a question from Mike. Experts say Typhoon Haiyan was about as strong as a typhoon could theoretically get when it swept through the Philippines. Typhoon intensities have been rising and climate models suggest they will keep rising over the decades to come. Will these potential increase result in larger damage and loss for countries affected?

Charlotte: Hi Mike, IPCC data indicates that there is little evidence to date of changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme events in the region and so it is too early to make such comments. Regardless, economic losses are already increasing because not enough attention is being paid to disaster risk. In fact, additional risk is being created on a daily basis.

Harumi: Thank you very much to all of you who have contributed and participated today. We have gone over time, so we'd like to invite you to send any further questions to hkodama@adb.org, or contact us via Facebook or Twitter. As to the questions we were not able to respond to during the chat today, we will do our best to respond individually by email. Until the next chat!

Preety: Thank you for a lively discussion and some very insightful questions. Until next time.

Charlotte: Thanks very much to you all for your great questions. I really appreciated them. Bye!

Preety M. Bhandari
Preety M. Bhandari is Advisor and Head of ADB's Climate Change Program Coordination Unit. Prior to joining ADB, she was Coordinator of the Finance, Technology and Capacity Building Program of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She holds Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Economics from the University of Delhi in India.
Charlotte Benson
Charlotte Benson is Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist in ADB's Public Management, Governance, and Participation Division of the Regional and Sustainable Development Department. Prior to joining ADB she was an independent consultant and researcher for over 25 years with national and multilateral organizations. She holds a Doctoral degree in Development Studies from the University of London, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.