Protecting nature to minimize disaster risks

Protecting nature to minimize disaster risks

Nature contributes numerous services and functions that are critical for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. For instance, wetlands store and purify water, mangroves protect coastal areas from storm surges, and forests on slopes stabilize soils and help prevent erosion and landslides. Yet, human actions and climate change continue to destroy and degrade ecosystems, threatening their collapse and diminishing benefits to local societies.  

Between 2000 and 2019, 1.4 billion people were affected by droughts and 1.6 billion by floods. In the last 50 years, floods led to economic losses of US$ 115 billion, while droughts led to the largest human losses, causing 650 000 deaths.

Science reminds us that the choices we now make and the actions we now take have a stark impact on whether we can secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. It also highlights the connection between human-induced climate change, more frequent and intense extreme events, and risks to natural and human systems.

Climate change, environmental degradation and unsustainable practices increase risks and thus make people more vulnerable. It is important that risks are accounted for in national policy to avoid worsening existing risks or creating new risks. In addition, by not taking care of the natural resources that local communities depend on, disasters can further reinforce inequalities and threaten livelihoods. 

Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented levels of disasters. These disasters are driven by biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, and climate change. These are all drivers of risk that fall under human control. Human decisions have placed short-term gains over long-term sustainability and resilience, and as a result, our planet is facing a crisis. – Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction 

With this understanding of the increased urgency for action, it comes as no surprise that States parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) discussed how to better tackle the biodiversity and climate crises together during the 25th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) that took place in Nairobi in October. 

The deliberations placed a spotlight on Targets 8 and 11 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which was adopted in December last year. Both targets highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction for reducing threats to biodiversity and the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to global changes as well as the contribution of nature to protect people from natural hazards, including through nature-based solutions. They further call for enhanced coherence, complementarity and synergy between relevant international frameworks, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030

Reducing threats to biodiversity

Target 8: Minimize the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increase its resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions, including through nature-based solution and/or ecosystem-based approaches, while minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity. 

Meeting people’s needs

Target 11: Restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystem functions and services, such as regulation of air, water and climate, soil health, pollination and reduction of disease risk, as well as protection from natural hazards and disasters, through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches for the benefit of all people and nature. 

The decision on biodiversity and climate change adopted by SBSTTA considered the need to review existing guidance (e.g. CBD Voluntary Guidelines for the Design and Effective Implementation of Ecosystem-based Approaches to Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction) and to determine the need for additional guidance and tools that can help countries to achieve the ambitious global commitments. Since parties to the CBD are in the process of updating their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), it is an opportune moment to define entry points and national targets that capture risk reduction as an inherent part for the protection of people and planet. 

As Parties undergo the process of translating the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to the national level, this is the moment to ensure synergies with national plans addressing climate change and disaster risk. It is equally important to understand and recognise the roles and risks facing Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women and youth, as well as the private sector. – David Cooper, Acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity 

Speakers and organizers at the Catalysing Biodiversity Action through Comprehensive Risk Governance side event, 18 October 2023. Photo: UNDRR


To take a deep dive into biodiversity and disaster risk reduction interactions, UNDRR – in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Environment Programme and the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction – organised a side event on “Catalysing Biodiversity Action through Comprehensive Risk Governance”. 

The aim was to better understand gaps, needs and opportunities to strengthen a risk lens at national level in support of the implementation of Targets 8 and 11 and respond to calls from UN Member States made in the UN General Assembly Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework to strengthen comprehensive risk governance by (i) mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the implementation of biodiversity conservation, restoration and sustainable management; and (ii) promoting nature-based solution, ecosystem-based approaches to restore, maintain and enhance ecosystem functions and services for protection from natural hazards and to contribute towards increasing the resilience of biodiversity, supporting sustainable livelihoods and building community resilience.

The event prompted participants to discuss what is currently missing that could support national planning on disaster risk reduction and biodiversity. Participants also considered existing good examples of integrating disaster risk reduction into NBSAPs. The event underlined the importance of risk knowledge from various levels and sources, the need to overcome institutional and governance barriers, and the role key role of nature-based solutions for disaster risk reduction

Key recommendations proposed by participants include: 

  • Creating a common understanding around agreed values and mutual goals;
  • Providing additional guidance that is concise, easy to understand, and uses clear messages; 
  • Emphasising that both the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework aim to reduce impacts on ecosystems and people. 

In the coming months, UNDRR will continue engaging with country representatives from the biodiversity and disaster risk reduction communities to provide technical support that advances the mutual goals of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.



Read More