GCF boosts SIDS early warning systems to avert climate-related disasters

  • Article type News update
  • Publication date 15 Nov 2021

A GCF event at COP26 brought together a panel of international and national organisations, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and young professionals to boost capacity in climate early warning systems in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and discuss how to turn this data into action that protects people’s lives.

Carolina Fuentes, GCF’s Secretary to the Board, told the COP26 event “Early Warnings for Small Island Developing States – Bridging the Capacity Gap by 2030” that GCF has become the largest financier of early warning systems in the world and this investment is starting to see results.

She elaborated that USD 1.2  billion of GCF’s approved budget is going to climate information and early warning, but barriers remain with budgets, coordination at local or international level and market access barriers.  “We need to transform the data into input that drives action on the ground,” Fuentes said. 

The panel also heard how the entire community needs to be involved in the design and execution of early warning systems, according to Tagaloa Cooper-Halo, Director of Climate Change Resilience at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). 

Full event recording

This sentiment was echoed by Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who stressed the organisation’s community-based approach to climate warning systems. “These crises happen in the community, there must be people in the response who also know these communities,” he said. “The success of early warning systems depends on trust,” Chapagain added.

Ambassador Jan Wahlberg, the Finnish representative to GCF’s Board, described the efforts of Nordic states to work together closely to close the adaptation finance gap and to channel resources to early warning systems in SIDS. 

Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Secretary General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States joined the discussion virtually and described what he called the “unique challenges” facing SIDS and the need to be able to access climate finance with ease, to channel funding towards critical early warning and other adaptation projects. 

Adele Young, Coordinator of the Early Warnings Systems Young Professionals group in Trinidad and Tobago, also joined the panel virtually and described how early warning systems must capitalise on the skills and passion of young professionals, to allow them to have real impact on their communities by providing local expertise and new, innovative approaches. “Investing in us is investing in the future,” Young said.
The session closed by hearing from Mami Mizutori, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who stressed the ability of early warning systems to protect the economies of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and SIDS from the impact of climate-related disasters such as hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

“It’s not easy to understand what the data means and to turn that into action. You need the capacity to do that.  You also need to involve the community, early warning only works when it’s combined with early action,” Mizutori said.

Climate early warning systems have a huge potential to help those countries on the frontline of accelerating global heating avoid extensive damage and deaths. The Global Commission on Adaptation has found that just a 24-hour warning of an incoming storm can reduce the rate of damage by 30 percent.

While the death and destruction following extreme weather events grab the news headlines, the long-term economic hits caused by extreme weather act as a severe brake on the continued development of SIDS. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) estimates that since 1970, SIDS have lost USD 153 billion due to weather, climate and water-related hazards. This is a significant amount given that the average SIDS’ GDP is USD 13.7 billion.

The impacts of accelerating climate change are particularly telling for SIDS in the current environment as COVID-19 closes borders and dries up flows of investment and tourists. Fiji’s Minister Responsible for Climate Change, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, told another recent GCF forum at COP26 that his vulnerable island nation has been smashed by three cyclones since the onset of COVID-19 - with one causing more rainfall in 24 hours than London receives in a year.

The UNFCCC established GCF in 2010 to provide financial support for developing country needs in taking climate action. As a country-driven organisation, GCF will continue to respond to SIDS’ calls for assistance in building climate early warning systems. 

It is critical for SIDS to improve their ability to deal with a warming planet. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s SIDS have identified the development of early warning systems as a priority in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).