Seeking to counter the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming, a United Nations body entrusted with mitigating natural disasters, such as cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes, today called on Governments to speed up implementation of a two-year-old accord to reduce the risks facing millions of people exposed to climate-caused calamites.

The appeal follows last week’s release of a new report the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showing that changes in the atmosphere, the oceans, glaciers and ice caps show unequivocally that the world is warming and that its is more than 90 per cent certain that human activities are the cause.

“Action is needed to reduce people’s vulnerability to climate-related hazards and the Hyogo Framework provides a blueprint for taking such action now,” UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) director Sálvano Briceño said, referring to the Hyogo Framework for Action: 2005 – 2015, adopted by 168 Governments at the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, in January 2005.

“We need to build our houses, schools and hospitals away from landslide-prone locations, using flood-resistant materials. We need to educate people to reduce their own risk, preserve ground cover to avoid erosion, adjust agricultural practices to avoid losing crops to flood or drought, and protect our coasts,” Mr. Briceño told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Society’s vulnerability is only increasing as a result of rapid urbanization, population pressure, and other factors. Climate change will aggravate existing vulnerabilities, increase drought, flood and storm risk for millions of people and bring these risks to parts of the world that haven’t felt them before. The need for action is urgent.”

The Hyogo Framework seeks to build over a 10-year period the resilience of nations and communities against disasters caused by natural hazards, such as floods, droughts, storms and temperature extremes. Global warming that will have an enormous impact on the frequency and severity of hazards. The increase of temperature by 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius this century, projected in the IPCC report, will make hot extremes, heat waves and heavy rainfall, more frequent.

There will also be greater rainfall at high latitudes and less in most subtropical land regions, and it is likely that tropical cyclones such as typhoons and hurricanes will become more intense. Much is already being done to reduce climate-related risk, and Governments are implementing laws, designating institutions to reduce and manage disasters, developing early warning systems, and creating social safety nets and insurance programmes. But much more needs to be done. “The lessons learned from Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Caribbean for surviving floods and tropical storms need to be shared with the rest of the world,” Mr. Briceño said.

The next part of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability will be released on 6 April. A third component on potential ways to mitigate the problem will be released on 3 May.

“Those reports will stress even more the need to take action. We face a serious challenge but if we utilize what we know already we have a greater chance to reduce disasters and avoid the worst-case scenario,” Mr. Briceño concluded.