Mainstreaming disaster risk awareness is first step to sustainable future

Regular inclusion of climate and disaster risk on the G20 agenda would be a key first step in developing a sustainable pathway to 2050, an industry representative told a major scientific conference, as he warned of the need to end divided thinking on the issue.

Rowan Douglas, chief executive of Willis Re Analytics, said the upcoming G20 meeting in May was the first to have natural hazards as part of its agenda, something he would like to see become a regular feature of the dialogue.

“My aim is for G20 meetings to start to include a short- to medium-term climate and environmental risk forecast as well as an economic risk forecast,” he told the Planet Under Pressure conference, taking place in London this week to address biodiversity, climate and sustainability challenges.

“That would start to mainstream climate and environmental risk in thinking in the G20 countries,” he said.

Douglas, who was participating in a panel discussion that included the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, said the challenge could only be met through joined-up thinking between science, the public and private sectors.

“We desperately need to break down the divided thinking between public, private and scientific,” he said.

“The ultimate consumers are the private sector – companies and corporations are just groups of individuals working together. As private citizens we also come together to vote for governments.

“If the private sector fails, we all fail. There is no way we will survive this challenge if we continue to think in a divided way.

“What we have to find is a sustainable solution for nations, businesses, politics and science, to find a sustainable pathway to 2050.”

Douglas said he could foresee a new phase of scientific influence through increased awareness of how climate and environmental risk is affecting individuals, society and businesses.

“200 years ago there was a literary and cultural shift – the romantic movement – that was about man being more at one with nature,” he said.

“I think we are now about to see another fundamental change. This won’t be because of each of us being affected by extreme events, but because of the change to the transmission system – what is becoming increasingly clear is how environmental change and risk is beginning to affect the resilience of society, institutions and nations.

“The modelled world and networked world will become fundamental to how we respond. Communities will become much more integrated.”

Douglas said this new supply chain will have a “profound effect” on our ability to transform our world.

“Its about us being able to compete and grow and have a positive outlook on the future, in an overarching framework that allows us to be sustainable. This requires economic and cultural change,” he said.

Sir John Beddington said managing climate and environmental challenges would require private sector support.

“There isn’t enough capital in governments to solve the problem,” he said.

Beddington said the initial timescale to focus on was the next 20 years, with “massive challenges” needing to be addressed in the short term.

This includes the continued growth of major cities – by 2025, around 60% of the global population will be living in cities, he said – as well as the growing global population.

Within the same timeframe, he said an additional one billion people will be on the planet.

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