Sendai as it happened: Final day of UN disaster risk reduction talks

Latest news from Japan as countries negotiate new 10-year plan to prepare for future natural and climate-linked disasters

(Pic: twitter/Plan Asia)

(Pic: twitter/Plan Asia)


– Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 adopted
– Talks finish nearly 12 hours behind schedule
– US distances itself from technology transfer commitment
– Aid agencies criticise rich countries for weak finance promises
– Cyclone Pam raises climate profile in UN disaster talks

1528 GMT – Wahlstrom says: “The adoption of this new framework for disaster risk reduction opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health.

“Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Action over the next 15 years will require strong commitment and political leadership and will be vital to the achievement of future agreements on sustainable development goals and climate later this year. As the UN Secretary-General said here on the opening day, sustainability starts in Sendai.”

That is it from Sendai. Keep following RTCC for news and analysis on what the disaster risk deal means for the climate talks.

1522 GMT – Margareta Wahlstrom, UN disaster chief, highlights an increased focus on local action, health, promoting the role of women and the private sector.

It has been an “interesting day” that “ended well”, she says.

1459 GMT – The closing session has started and the Japanese presidency is gaveling through the agreements.

1441 GMT – Oxfam is “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.

“The world’s poorest people, who are most vulnerable to natural disasters, have again been let down by governments,” says Scott Paul.

“Negotiators in Sendai were supposed to agree on a much needed bold new plan to build countries’ resilience to events like Cyclone Pam that has just devastated Vanuatu, one of our least developed nations.

“Instead what was adopted is a set of half-measures that will not keep pace with rapidly rising disaster risk around the world.”

A lack of concrete finance commitments “threatens to undercut” the international community’s anti-poverty agenda, Paul added.

It “puts added pressure on governments to take bold action” at the sustainable development and climate talks later this year.

1401 GMT – What use is an international agreement with no numerical targets or finance?

How can developing countries be sure of technology support if the US refuses to acknowledge that part of the deal?

What kind of precedent does this set for sustainable development and climate talks later this year?

These are some of the questions to be asked as the talks wrap up.

1341 GMT – With the text agreed, delegates are heading for the closing ceremony – without that children’s choir they booked. It is nearly 11pm in Sendai, past bedtime for the young people. Having been up most of last night, negotiators will be looking forward to sleep themselves.

1335 GMT – Reaction is coming in from development charities. They are not impressed.

Maggie Ibrahim of World Vision says: “While leaders here can be commended for spotlighting issues effecting the disabled, women and children, the new plan will largely neglect a commitment to international co-operation between richer countries and the developing world.

“It has been critical to finalise and adopt a bold new international agreement on disaster reduction, which sets a precedent for the two upcoming agreements on climate change and sustainable development later this year.

“What we have seen instead is that wealthy countries – which are ready to set ambitious global goals to reduce disaster – are reluctant to commit any additional funding to help achieve them.”

Harjeet Singh of Action Aid says: “Over the past four days in Sendai, we have seen rich nations gradually erode commitments to deliver money to developing countries to prepare for and respond to increasing disasters and climate change impacts.

“We are walking away from Sendai with an international agreement full of fluffy targets. The agreement has no specific numbers which are needed to hold governments to account for their actions over the next fifteen years.

“The language in the text is ambiguous on what rich nations must provide. This is an unacceptable compromise by the world’s governments that will ultimately affect people living in poverty the most.”

1330 GMT – The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 sets out seven targets.

These are quite vaguely defined, aiming to “reduce” economic losses and “substantially reduce” deaths from disasters without setting specific numbers.

On international cooperation, countries agreed to provide “adequate and sustainable support” to the developing world – a lesser commitment than the “additional and predictable” phrasing of earlier drafts.

1318 GMT – It looks like the US backed down on technology transfer, which is contentious because it involves sharing valuable intellectual property.

The final text does not include the phrase “as mutually agreed” – a qualifier that would have allowed them to opt out.

But ODI’s Tom Mitchell says they are stressing this does not set a precedent for the climate talks.

1309 GMT – They have a deal in Sendai. Here is some initial reaction.

1231 GMT – Harjeet Singh of Action Aid is looking on the bright side.

Climate politics may have made it harder to reach a deal in Sendai, as he explained in a comment article for RTCC. But it is also raising political awareness of climate disasters, which he tweets is “good for [the] long term”.

1226 GMT – The draft Sendai Declaration has been distributed, a four-point document in which governments agree to adopt “TITLE OF FRAMEWORK HERE”. We have yet to see the framework itself, which is the substance of the deal.

1208 GMT – Delegates are reportedly filing back into the negotiating room, in anticipation of a text.

1152 GMT – Tom Mitchell, climate change expert at the Overseas Development Institute, is in Sendai.

He tells RTCC: “Right now, I am looking across at an empty negotiating room.

“The co-chairs are sat at the front, poring over a document I can only assume is a new document. Everybody else has gone for dinner.”

Last night, negotiators thought they had resolved the big issues of international cooperation (finance) and technology transfer, Mitchell explains.

Developing countries agreed to give up their demand for “additional and predictable” finance, in exchange for clearer commitment to technology support.

But the US objected, wanting to keep in the qualifier “as mutually agreed” in respect to technology transfer. That “basically means ‘we don’t have to do it’,” says Mitchell.

People are confident the Japanese presidency will salvage a deal, he says, but it is hard to predict where it will end up.

There are also concerns about what kind of precedent any agreement in Sendai will set for the sustainable development and climate talks later in the year.

1120 GMT – It is 2120 in Sendai and observers are getting impatient. The closing ceremony was due to start at midday.

1115 GMT – Still not sure what all this has to do with climate change?

Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister and president of this December’s UN climate summit in Paris, makes the connection clear in Sendai.

Disaster risk reduction and climate change are “inseparably linked”, he says. More than 70 countries are particularly vulnerable to typhoons, flooding, snowstorms, sandstorms, drought and rising seas.

“When you put in place a natural disaster warning system, we are contributing to adaptation to climate change. When we take into account, for examples, the risks of climate change as we design our buildings and as we plan the use of coastal areas, this is also contributions to adaptation to climate change. We must therefore consider these problems together and not separately.”

On the UN talks, he says: “I would like to state here how important the success of the Sendai Conference outcome will be for beginning the year on excellent terms and will facilitate the success of the Paris Conference.”

There is no agreement yet.

1105 GMT – It is not just buildings that get flattened by earthquakes, floods and storms – around a quarter of damages to the developing world are in farming, notes the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Dominique Burgeon, FAO resilience coordinator, explains the figure in this podcast.

1047 GMT – Finance is one of the lingering points of contention, so how much money are we talking?

The UN estimates in its Global Assessment Report investment of US$6 billion a year could prevent US$360 billion worth of damage over the next 15 years. That is around 20% of the total economic losses expected over the period.

The only finance pledge so far comes from Japan, which has offered US$4 billion over four years.

1033 GMT – Countries have agreed on six out of seven targets for the Sendai Framework, reports Thomson Reuters’ Megan Rowling from Sendai.

These include reducing the number of lives lost between 2020 and 2030, compared to 2005 to 2015, and cutting economic losses by 2030 as a proportion of global GDP.

Negotiators are still arguing over whether to mention conflict as a factor that makes people more vulnerable, as well as funding and technology transfer.

Margareta Wahlstrom, UN disaster risk chief, told Rowling she was still confident a deal would be reached.

“It may not be to everyone’s optimum expectation, but for me what is important is that we have the disaster risk reduction part,” she said.

1024 GMT – While negotiators attempt to salvage a deal, news trickling in from Vanuatu serves as a reminder of what is at stake.

Reuters reports the Pacific island state is running low on basic supplies in the wake of the category five storm Cyclone Pam.

Oxfam argues in a blog the damage in Vanuatu shows a Sendai deal will be “incoherent” and “irresponsible” without finance to back it up. Policy advisor Scott Paul criticises developed countries for refusing to commit funds.

Filipino climate commissioner Yeb Sano drew comparisons with Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated his country in 2013, in an exclusive interview with RTCC.

An estimated 45,000 school-aged children have no access to education as a result of Cyclone Pan (Pic: UNICEF)

An estimated 45,000 school-aged children have no access to education as a result of Cyclone Pan (Pic: UNICEF)

1004 GMT – Demonstrators with Plan Asia bring a rare flash of colour to the talks.

0959 GMT – In the absence of live action, the UN webcast is showing pre-recorded videos, highlighting the impact of climate change on disaster risk.

Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organization, argues the best way to deal with this is to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

That is not the subject of today’s talks, but will have its own moment in the spotlight in Paris this December.

michel jarraud

0952 GMT – The final plenary has yet to start and they have all but given up on a closing ceremony.

0947 GMT – As usual with international negotiations, the most contentious issue is how much support – as finance or technology assistance – rich countries should provide to poorer ones.

That has been complicated by the introduction of climate politics to the mix, as we reported yesterday. An estimated 87% of natural disasters are climate-linked and many types of extreme weather – flooding, drought, tropical storms – are expected to worsen as greenhouse gas emissions rise.

Those countries most vulnerable to climate crises argue developed countries must pay for the damage their emissions visit on the world’s poorest.

While the Sendai Framework – as a deal is to be called if it is ever reached – does not directly compel countries to provide resources, it sets expectations.

0930 GMT – Of all the UN deals due in 2015, disaster risk reduction was supposed to be the least contentious.

Focused on providing practical advice, it is voluntary and does not commit governments to providing finance: see Ed King’s handy primer.

Yet the talks in Sendai are several hours into overtime, with no end in sight.

So what are the sticking points? Will they get a deal? What does this mean for the upcoming UN talks on sustainable development and climate change?

We will be following the developments from Sendai and getting reaction from around the world.

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