Region can ward off 'climate carnage'

·3-min read

Billions of people in the Asia-Pacific region can avoid a future of climate carnage if nations take swift and co-ordinated action, an international conference has been told.

Delegates from more than 40 countries are in Brisbane to discuss how to limit deaths, displacements and economic losses from the escalating threat of natural disasters.

Remarkably, given climate impacts have been affecting the Pacific for years, it is the first time leaders from these nations have been invited as full participants of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

It is the ninth such event, this year being hosted by the United Nations and Australia.

Mami Mizutori is the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for disaster risk reduction and says that with determined effort the region can avoid the heartbreaking scenes playing out in Pakistan. One-third of the nation has flooded in recent weeks, affecting 33 million people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

More than 1500 have also died in what UN chief Antonio Guterres called climate carnage on a scale he had never witnessed before. Crops and livelihoods are ruined, and infrastructure has been swept away.

"Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world,'' Ms Mizutori told delegates.

"Along with that come disaster mortality, injuries, losses of livelihoods, damage to critical infrastructure, disruption of basic public services and displacements.

"But this does not have to be this region's legacy. We are here together this week to accelerate the change we need ... by transforming the Asia-Pacific region's future through disaster risk reduction."

She said world leaders understand the urgency.

"We know what the drivers of risk are - climate change, environmental degradation, unplanned urban growth, and of course all of the vulnerabilities in our societies, including poverty and inequality,'' Ms Mizutori said.

"We also know that there are measures which can reduce these vulnerabilities, increase resilience, prevent hazards from becoming disasters that devastate and trigger humanitarian crises. We must seize this moment to scale up our efforts."

Australia's Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt told delegates Brisbane was "swimming in water" just a few months ago, as much of Australia's east coast flooded and left thousands homeless.

"I've met families, farmers, workers and business owners who've experienced four or even five floods in the last three years alone, in some cases, particularly in our southern states, directly after experiencing unprecedented bushfires that the whole world witnessed in horror,"' Mr Watt said.

He said delegates had their own stories of rising sea levels in the Pacific, of typhoons and of catastrophic floods in Asia.

"The impacts of climate change are here, right now,'' Mr Watt said.

"While we may not be able to stop natural disasters from occurring in the future, by working together we really can try to minimise the impact."

Earlier, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told delegates the state had endured almost 100 natural disasters since 2011 - "on average, almost one a month for over a decade".

She said nations must learn from each other, and Queensland's history meant it had much to share about managing unfolding disasters and "building back better".

Ms Palaszczuk said that of 520 projects funded under resilience-focused rebuilding programs, three-quarters had been in natural disasters again.

"But remarkably less than 20 per cent of them suffered any new damage," she said.

The conference, involving more than 3000 delegates, continues until Thursday.