The United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) has just concluded in Sendai, Japan. Swenja Surminski reports on the final agreement.

Just before midnight on Wednesday 18th March delegates at the WCDRR adopted a new disaster risk reduction framework. Many delegates commented that ‘any agreement is better than no agreement’ – but whether Sendai turns out to be the ‘pivotal point’ for global climate risk management remains to be seen. The final plenary and closing ceremony of the WCDRR in Sendai, originally scheduled for the morning of 18th March 2015 had to be postponed several times, and delegates looked clearly exhausted after the ‘marathon negotiation’. The new ‘Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’ includes seven global targets (most of which were not quantified), and sets out four priority areas for further action. Within this clear references are made to climate change (underlining the mandate of the UNFCCC to negotiate the climate adaptation elements relevant for the DRR context). The document calls for ‘increased, timely, stable and predictable contributions’ to the United Nations Trust Fund for Disaster Reduction, but doesn’t explicitly define this. The Sendai Framework also reaffirms all principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992 and presents DRR as a key part of sustainable development.

The seven targets are:

  • Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 100,000 global mortality between 2020-2030 (compared to 2005-2015).
  • Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower the average global figure per 100,000 between 2020-2030 compared to 2005-2015.
  • Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
  • Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030.
  • Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
  • Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this framework by 2030.
  • Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

More quantitative indicators had been proposed, but only two made it into the final document. The interpretation of ‘substantially’ for the last five targets will be interesting and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Monitoring progress will be a challenge due to data availability issues and transparency in many countries.

The four priority areas for further action are

  1. understanding risk;
  2. risk governance;
  3. investment in resilience;
  4. ‘build back better’ in recovery and reconstruction phases post-disaster.

The key question is if and how the agreement in Sendai can send the right signals to the next round of negotiations, most notably the development financing summit in Addis Abeba this summer, the sustainable development goals talks in the autumn and the climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year. Delegates leaving WCDRR appeared somewhat optimistic, but were mostly relieved at not going away empty handed.


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