Can one be any more supportive of the G20 Summit agenda of September 2013? After all, everyone demands sustainable, inclusive, and balanced growth. And everyone demands creation of millions of jobs worldwide. Perhaps in this phase of a financial slow down, the top policy makers are in rare harmony with what citizens want.
However, what appears to be missing from the G20 Summit agenda is a focus on risk and resilience: reducing risk of climate change and natural hazards and building resilience of livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable. Somehow, the G20 leaders seem to assume our future will be free from disasters and extreme climate events.
This is odd. Since the last G20 Summit, almost each leader has dealt with one or more disasters and extreme climate events at home or internationally. The largest economies of the world face disaster risks now more than ever before. And yet, none of the leaders has yet mentioned risk or resilience beyond the financial or economic terms in what they hope to discuss at the G20 Summit.
Yet each item on its agenda demands focus on risk and resilience. Let me draw from the discussion held at the recent meeting of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network’s (CDKN) Disaster Risk Management Learning and Innovation Hub in Asia, on June 19-21, 2013 in Bangkok.
The message from over 50 participants piloting innovative climate risk projects in Asia and the Pacific was that the framework for strong, sustainable, and balanced growth must include protection from natural disaster risks and resilience.
The participants not only had piloted ways to reduce risk and build resilience across Asia and the Pacific, but in many cases were already a step or two ahead in reducing risk and building the resilience of their communities.
While jobs and employment are on the G20 agenda, they cannot be discussed without discussing the exposure of existing jobs to risk, as well as the potential of jobs to reduce extreme event risks worldwide. More and more jobs formal and informal for example, in the delta areas of Mahanadi, Brahmaputra, Ganges, high altitude settlements in Ladakh, Kashmir, Sikkim; and in flood plains in Bihar in India and Chandragadi in Nepal or Punjab in Pakistan; are facing the risk of being lost.
These jobs are held by the poorest among the vulnerable communities of fishermen, coastal farmers, hill area horticulturalists and flood plain small holders. Though scattered, when added up, the possible loss of livelihood due to climate risk over the next five years is estimated from 3 to 20 million.
More accurate and system-wide estimates are yet to come, but it is in this estimating that the G20 can take the lead. In the Mahanadi delta of Odisha, landless women are taking up small non-farm businesses to diversify their income; so are women in the Mekong in South East Asia and Nile deltas in Egypt.
For some reason, energy security continues to remain a development agenda and not a disaster agenda. Not only is energy security facing the risk of disasters—floods and earthquakes in two thirds of hydropower establishments in Asia—but it is this very vulnerable energy that is needed to accelerate recovery after any disaster.
The resilience of energy security, especially of the still poor population in G20 countries is certainly not on the G20 Summit agenda. The Summit must start global thinking on energy and emergency.
As the post-2015 development goals are being defined, ‘Development for All’ is on the G20 agenda. This agenda item also includes those at risk of disasters and those who are victims of disasters. But such implicit mention is not enough anymore.
What is needed is a ‘Safer Development for All’. Safer not only in terms of disasters and climate risk, but also in terms of income, assets and basic services of drinking water and sanitation.
Several G20 members are already faced with large number of disaster victims, many of them recent. Development must reach them faster and it must be better. The G20 Summit must demand reducing the risk and building resilience as cross cutting theme for revised development goals.
International financial architecture will be discussed at G20 Summit. It is assumed that for trade, commerce, and investment, there is but one type of architecture needed for financial growth and stability. It does not realize the possible impact of a major disaster on not only the growth and flow of finance, but also on the architecture itself.
Some elements of this international financial architecture are in need of retrofitting such as enabling trade and commerce and small businesses to withstand financial shocks. Imagine the impact of a major earthquake in Greece or Portugal now! And how would economies of India or China or Japan absorb such an extreme event at home?
The international financial architecture needs resilience audit and G20 Summit can start demanding it from international financial institutions.
Enhancing multilateral trade is placed high on the discussion agenda. Global trade has become a routine part of most local markets. The spread, depth, and direction of trade have grown manifold over the past two decades. Floods in Thailand have slowed down some of the trade in Asia; but imagine the impact on major parts in Asia facing higher sea levels or cyclones or both as a result of climate change.
World trade must be protected against disaster risk and be resilient to climate change risk. G20 leaders would be wise to demand a global risk audit of trade from World Trade Organisation on annual basis.
Fighting corruption concerns the G20 leaders. Humanitarian crises are notorious for the corruption that arises due poor accountability and impact. Downward accountability to the victims, and lateral accountability to other authorities and donors needs greater supervision worldwide.
Networks such as Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) in UK have developed ways to address this. And as humanitarian crises escalate with extreme events, the possibility of corruption related to flood management, drought proofing, and cyclone shelter is something to look out for by the leaders.
So, is there a single most important step these busy leaders can take to address the risks facing our world today? Is there a way ahead? The G20 Summit would do well to take a timely and reflective look at the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), prepared by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and plan for a development course post 2015 that takes into account the vulnerabilities and risk reduction that will make the world a safer, better place for all.