UN talks climate disasters as “monster” cyclone Pam hits Pacific


Tropical Cyclone Pam cut a broad swathe through the Pacific over the weekend, with winds estimated to have reached 250kmph and gusts peaking at around 320kmph, at least eight lives have been lost and serious damage done to infrastructure in Vanuatu. 45 percent of Tuvalu’s population was also displaced by storm surges, despite the island nation being more than 350km away, while Kiribati is also reporting that three of its islands were badly damaged from high winds and storm surges. Such broad and heavy impacts has led to Pam being dubbed as one of the strongest tropical cyclones (known as typhoons in the northwest Pacific) to ever hit the Pacific. As its toll is assessed, the UN is convening in Sendai, Japan, for the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), which opened with the revelation that climate-related disasters now dominate disaster risk management. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says that 87 per cent of natural disasters that occurred during the last decade were climate-related. With tropical cyclone Pam’s looming large over the conference, parallels being drawn between it, Hagupit and Haiyan, which respectively devastated the Philippines two years in a row during United Nations climate conferences. Pam’s impacts underscore the importance of strong outcomes at the meeting, and now, like then, governments are being called upon to chart a bold new course to reduce the risk of disasters over the next fifteen years. This will mean – among many other things – dramatically cutting fossil fuel use; helping the developing world and those at risk of extreme weather events prepare for such disasters; and to put far more effort into mitigating climate impacts, and helping poor nations adapt.



Key Points

  • Immense tropical cyclones are now routinely hitting vulnerable nations during UN conferences, underscoring the fact that climate change is hitting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people first, and hardest. Vanuatu has been hit hard by Pam, as have Tuvalu, and Kiribati despite being far from its centre. New Zealand is now weathering the impacts, and Pam is expected to move on to the Chatham Islands. Small island developing states, like Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and Kiribati are expected to lose on average 20 times more than their total capital each year as a result of disasters such as Pam.
  • Climate change is likely to increase the intensity of tropical cyclones, and the frequency of the most severe ones, but not their overall frequency. IPCC projections indicate that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged, but at the same time global mean tropical cyclone maximum wind speed and rain rates is likely (>66 per cent probability) to increase. Greater wind strength, the height of the storm surges (as sea levels rise from climate change), and the amount of precipitation during tropical cyclones are all exacerbated by climate change.
  • Climate change is a ‘key factor’ in tropical cyclone Pam’s devastation, emphasising the desperate need for not only strong action on climate change, but the imperative of adaptation and disaster preparedness. Pam, Haiyan, and Hagupit highlight the need for stronger, concerted global action to reduce emissions (climate change mitigation), and the need for increasing investment in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. As a recent Oxfam report notes, the world can’t afford to wait for another Haiyan, another Hagupit, or another Pam to strike. Action is needed now.



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Key quotes

  • “This is a major calamity for our country. Every year we lose 6 per cent of our GDP to disasters. This cyclone is a huge setback for the country’s development. It will have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels in addition to five active volcanoes and earthquakes. This is why I am attending this Conference and why Vanuatu wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change.” President of the Republic of Vanuatu, H.E. Baldwin Lonsdale.
  • “I worry that a sense of urgency and a sense of shared ambition is not at the right level…It’s hugely ironic that this storm should hit Vanuatu while we are all here. If we truly care for those people, we have to respond. I think we have to hold ourselves accountable… I don’t think I would say climate change caused [Cyclone] Pam, but I would say the fact is in the past three or four years we’ve seen category fives coming with a regularity we’ve never seen before. And that has some relationship with climate change. It is indisputable that part of the Pacific Ocean is much warmer today than in previous years, so these storms are intensifying. We may have helped communities become resilient to the kinds of storms we experienced in the past, but resilience to a storm with wind speed of up to 300km per hour – that’s a whole new intensity.” World Bank Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, Rachel Kyte at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • “Unless we tackle climate change on the global level we are making the task of building resilience to disasters almost impossible.” UNDP chief Helen Clark.
  • “Climate change is intensifying the risks for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in small island developing states and coastal areas. What we are discussing here is very real for millions.” UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.
  • “We have reports coming in from three of the southern islands: some have had to move from one side, they’ve been residing on one side of the island and due to the wind and the waves, they had to, all the village had to relocate to the other end. So it’s affecting their lives, their livelihoods. I think it’s going to take quite a long time for them to get back to normal.” Kiribati government spokesman, Rimon Rimon.
  • “[I]t is sobering to note that 700,000 people have died in disaster events over the last ten years. A total of 1.7 billion people have had their lives disrupted in some way. It is of great concern that economic losses in major reported disaster events come to $1.4 trillion.” Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström.

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More tweets

  • MT @livecop21: Rd to #climate #COP21 after #Vanuatu #cyclonePam, are #SIDS Small Island Developing States or Small Island Demolished States?
  • MT @channingdutton: #CyclonePam again teaches the price of #climate inaction. Rate of C02 rise increases each year & storms grow.
  • RT @pierrecannet: As Vanuatu suffers, more urgency needed on #climate: World Bank http://t.co/i05AGMoSEE via @AFP #Sendai2015 #CyclonePam
  • RT @rkyte365: State of emergency in Tuvalu http://t.co/ymRQjSIlJk #cyclonepam #climate
  • RT @ClimateHotNews: Ban Ki-moon highlights climate risks as #Vanuatu counts dead from #CyclonePam http://t.co/HaRk4eYysi #climate