Natural disasters take center stage at UN climate negotiations

It is becoming increasingly evident that as climate change progresses, natural disasters will likely occur with increasing frequency and severity, and continue to deal a heavy blow to wildlife and the other animals upon which people rely for livelihoods and companionship such as livestock and pets.

According to experts at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, there were more natural disasters in 2010 than any other year on record except one – 2007. Not entirely by coincidence, the year 2010 was also one of the warmest years on record. The year 2011 will likely follow suit, both in terms of average global temperature and in terms of devastation caused by extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, and tornados.   

More and more, climate-related natural disasters are an important topic of discussion for the global community, both at the United Nations as it prepares for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), and at the meetings of the Parties to the to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where the future of the Kyoto Protocol is being negotiated by the governments of the world. 

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC has begun today in Durban, South Africa, and though greenhouse gas emission reduction is the overall theme of the negotiations, adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change is on everyone’s mind because those impacts are happening already, and people are suffering along with the many animals that get caught – oftentimes literally – in the storm. 

Politicians take note: the International Fund for Animal Welfare advocates for a fair, ambitious, and legally-binding agreement between all nations of the world to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a level where the worst effects of climate change can be avoided in the future.

More importantly, however, IFAW works on the ground to save animals from the impacts of climate change right now. In fact, we’re one of the few animal welfare organizations that might save an animal from a climate-related disaster, help protect that animal’s population and habitat, and advocate for stricter protection for that animal’s species at the national and international levels all at the same time.  It’s a tall order, but for most animals, it’s what has to happen in order for them to survive the impacts of climate change, both today and for many years to come. 

Unfortunately, the ability for animals to adapt to or withstand the impacts of climate change will depend on our own ability to take the actions necessary to help get through the coming bottleneck, and that begins with the negotiations taking place in Durban.

Their fates are entirely in our hands, and so we, through our governments, must pay the animals of the world their due respect.  Though few of us expect a comprehensive, legally-binding international agreement to emerge from Durban in two weeks, we can expect – in fact demand – that our government representatives negotiate openly and honestly and make tangible progress, especially when they represent countries like mine (the U.S.), among the very worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas pollution. 

For more about IFAW’s work to save animals from climate-related disasters, see our report “Unnatural Disasters: The Impacts of Climate-related Emergencies on Wildlife, Livestock, and Companion Animals,” which discusses the science behind climate-related disasters and the impacts of disasters on wild and domestic animals.

-- PT

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime