Natural disasters can strike anywhere at any time, bringing devastation in their wake and presenting threats to long-term development, growth and poverty reduction, particularly in the poorest and developing countries. Good planning and preparation can limit the scale of impacts. Risk management policies save lives and enable growth and sustainable development. Building resilience is about helping communities withstand and recover from disasters, with the focus on tackling the root causes rather than dealing with the consequences.
There has been an intense effort by the EU over the past few years to re-shape its external policy framework in response to the changing global environment. This new framework comprises multilateral goals such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Commitments to Action taken at the World Humanitarian Summit, as well as the EU’s own major reviews of the European Neighbourhood Policy, of its relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the European Consensus on Development, and the establishment of a new level of ambition for the EU’s security and defence policy. The Rome Declaration has reconfirmed the EU’s commitment to a stronger role on the global scene.
The EU will be taking forward this agenda in the context of a world where the pace of change is increasingly rapid and the pressures on states, societies, communities and individuals are increasingly disruptive. Pressures, marked by the unprecedented pace of globalisation, range from demographic, climate change, environmental or migratory challenges beyond the power of individual states to confront, to economic shocks, the erosion of societal cohesion due to weak institutions and poor governance, conflict, violent extremism, and acts of external powers to destabilise perceived adversaries. There is constant pressure on the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. And there is vast unmet humanitarian and development need.Chronic vulnerability and fragility in Europe’s wider neighbourhood is exacerbating the impact of these pressures. It is hampering the development of entire regions with potential spill-over beyond their borders.
To sustain progress, fostering resilience can be a solution. The 2012 Commission Communication on the EU approach to resilience defines resilience as “the ability of an individual, a household, a community, a country or a region to withstand, adapt and quickly recover from stresses and shocks”. The EU global strategy takes the concept further. It speaks of resilience as “a broad concept encompassing all individuals and the whole of society” that features “democracy, trust in institutions and sustainable development, and the capacity to reform”. Support to resilience at all levels is also an integral part of the new European Consensus on Development.
The EU’s strategic approach to resilience aims at achieving and sustaining the ambitious set of objectives for the EU’s external action described above, by strengthening:
- the adaptability of states, societies, communities and individuals to political, economic, environmental, demographic or societal pressures, in order to sustain progress towards national development goals;
- the capacity of a state – in the face of significant pressures to build, maintain or restore its core functions, and basic social and political cohesion, in a manner that ensures respect for democracy, rule of law, human and fundamental rights and fosters inclusive long-term security and progress;
- the capacity of societies, communities and individuals to manage opportunities and risks in a peaceful and stable manner, and to build, maintain or restore livelihoods in the face of major pressures.
In recent years, the EU have made huge progress towards strengthening disaster prevention and increasing its efficiency in dealing with disasters such as the devastating Typhoon Haiyan and the major earthquake in Haiti. The adoption of new Civil Protection legislation – with a strong DRR focus – and the reinforced Emergency Response Coordination Centre were major milestones in this regard.
Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) is the heart of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and coordinates the delivery of assistance to disaster stricken countries, such as relief items, expertise, civil protection teams and specialised equipment. The Centre ensures the rapid deployment of emergency support and acts as a coordination hub between participating states, the affected country, and civil protection and humanitarian experts. The Centre operates 24/7 and can help any country inside or outside the EU affected by a major disaster upon request from the national authorities or a UN body.
A well-coordinated response to natural and man-made disasters at European level can avoid duplication of relief efforts and ensure that assistance is tailored to the needs of those affected. To lessen the burden on contributing states, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre can liaise directly with the national civil protection authorities of the country in need and can also financially support the delivery of civil protection teams and assets to the affected country.
The United Nations issued an alert in 2018 that the world has 12 years to prevent a climate catastrophe, in a report by the world’s leading climate scientists. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming should be kept to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels to decrease the risk of drought, floods and extreme heat. Prof Seneviratne was one of the lead authors of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. “At the moment we continue to have emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere and other greenhouse gasses which means that we are going to continue to have additional warming compared to today,” she told.
In December, during the conclusive COP 24 Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland, three scientists told us that the IPCC report was actually too optimistic, depicting global warming as a “speeding freight train” in the paper “Global warming will happen faster than we think”, published in Nature magazine.
Between May and July 2018, Scandinavia had the driest and warmest period on record. The highest temperatures ever were recorded in the Arctic Circle. In Helsinki-Vantaa Finland, figures how record long runs of warm temperatures. There were 25 consecutive days of heat above 25ºC. It was exceptionally warm in the United Kingdom and Ireland too and wildfires swept through Sweden burning up 25,000 hectares of land. Greece experience its deadliest fire season in a decade, and in September experienced a rare ‘Medicane’, a Mediterranean “Hurricane”.
Greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere will, no matter what reductions in emissions occur in the coming years, make at least some level of climate change inevitable. This change is already beginning to be manifested as weather conditions become more variable and a range of physical impacts, like droughts and severe storms, occur with greater frequency and severity. Many of the essential conditions on which businesses rely are changing, leading to increasing prices, as well as shortfalls in the quality and supply of goods and services provided to customers. Adaptation policy is not only a story of risk management, but also of opportunity. Companies that act today may gain competitive advantage tomorrow. Being an adaptive business means being agile – responding to changing information, considering this before making investments, and integrating this into in its analysis of the potential market opportunities.
In Europe, businesses across a wide range of sectors are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, and are taking this issue seriously. Employees, customers, infrastructure, resources, profits and investments are already at risk, with more impacts expected in the coming years. Governments and policy-makers in Europe have an important role to play in supporting business resilience, removing barriers and incentivising action in key areas.