Together vs. the end of the world

by Idil Boran

Earth, how are you doing? (Issue I/2018)

The question of how the world should look after the regions most threatened by climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, given the rising sea level and erratic weather conditions.

Since 2013, the United Nations has been working on an international mechanism to compensate for loss and damage. But the language of ‘loss and damage’ dates back to 1991 when the UN Convention on Climate Change was being negotiated. At the time, the Alliance of Small Island States, asked for an insurance pool to safeguard small island states and low-lying developing countries at the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change. But, at the time, the proposal failed to gain traction as it was hard to imagine how a mega-insurance pool could be developed. But since then, attitudes have shifted considerably. What seemed utopian 25 years ago is today a task worth working on.

The idea of risk-sharing is to create large-scale insurance mechanisms that span borders, creating an extensive safety net for states worldwide. The concept behind it is simple: It is clear that weather and climate catastrophes will occur in the future, but we can’t predict where and when. That means it needs to hinge on a principle of solidarity, for example, with states creating an international financial pool or fund from which disaster relief funds can be used for urgent humanitarian operations. A newly created center of experts coordinates this process, helping governments, regional administrations, companies and households to effectively protect themselves against the effects of climate change.

However, unlike commercial insurance, risk sharing against the effects of climate change must be implemented across borders to help those most vulnerable. It requires partnerships between the public and private sectors internationally. This will depend on broad participation. States must begin to share their technical knowledge and expertise in order to ensure that people are prepared for the consequences of climate change and can access help in an emergency.

The advantage of risk-sharing over traditional disaster relief mechanisms is that it not only deals with damage but also prepares states for weather catastrophe. Predictive planning is the key here. The core principle is that each state contributes and not only in the form of premium payments, but also by taking concrete steps to build up the resilience of vulnerable countries to catastrophes. For example, each participating country pledges to improve its infrastructure.

It is above all a matter of gathering and analysing information, for example evaluating meteorological data in order to better predict weather catastrophes. In the end, better precautions can be taken and infrastructure projects can be designed to boost long-term resilience. States can take more effective countermeasures and protective measures against climate change impacts.

It is well known that disaster relief often fails to work effectively and fast enough in an emergency. In addition, poorer countries are at much greater risk from extreme weather. Often they do not have the resources to look after themselves. In the case of extremes like drought and flooding, the problem escalates over time. The lack of liquidity ensures that no emergency aid can be provided. This leads to a domino effect, that is to say that other problems are triggered. In the event of flooding, it can happen that the water waste no longer operates, sparking a spread of infectious diseases and epidemics spread. The devastating consequences of climate catastrophes are often felt in developing countries even years after they actually strike. Often poverty increases and the infrastructure is damaged. Risk sharing can help prevent such complications by providing immediate funding when needed.

Due to the imbalance between the global north and the global south, mutual assistance is indispensable so that the cost of hedging is more fairly distributed. However, this assistance must be well thought out and coordinated with a nod to the different needs of affected countries. In developing countries with low and medium gross national product, a stable risk-sharing mechanism could then have a truly emancipating effect and also promote a sense of international cooperation and mutual responsibility. Innovative risk-sharing could be tailored to the specific needs and strengths of local communities.

In the history of social cooperation, the distribution of risk has always played an important role, for example in public health care, old-age pensions and accident insurance. And even in the fight against the risks of climate change, concrete cooperation mechanisms are slowly but surely emerging.

“InsuResilience” is the largest initiative of its kind so far. It was founded by the G7 states at the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris. The office of the initiative is located in Bonn. There was a big meeting during the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2017 which brought together professionals, legislators and researchers. Today, the initiative faces the difficult task of putting into practice the ambitious targets set in Paris. It is closely watched by the scientific community, social scientists and humanists from all over the world, who seek to play their part in successfully ushering in this project to divide up the risks of climate change.

Nevertheless, risk sharing is of course not a panacea. Risk sharing can help us deal with extreme incidents and better mitigate the after-effects of a disrupted climate, but it is not suitable for tackling longer-term climate change impacts such as rising sea levels or melting glaciers.

The bottom line is that the world needs a comprehensive strategy to tackle climate change. Risk sharing can only be one strand of such a strategy. To be fully effective as a safety net, it must be combined with ambitious measures to reduce global emissions and eliminate fossil fuels. All in all, however, risk sharing must become a central component of the collective effort against climate change. Last but not least, it is a means of demonstrating that we are all in the same boat in the face of the global climate catastrophe.

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