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European Commission


European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science

Opening Address to the Meeting of the senior Officials of the Carnegie Group Countries, World Bank and United Nations

Meeting of the senior Officials of the Carnegie Group Countries, World Bank and United Nations / Brussels

6 December 2012

I am delighted to welcome you all to Brussels, and to the Berlaymont building, the headquarters of the European Commission.

I am particularly pleased to welcome those of you who have travelled very far to participate in this meeting.

As you know, the idea of this dedicated discussion was raised last June when the Carnegie Group met at Lake Constance in Germany and discussed Science and Technology Policies for improving disaster anticipation and resilience.

Given the leading position of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in this area of scientific activity, I suggested to my Carnegie Group colleagues that the JRC should convene a meeting to discuss co-operation in the areas of disaster prevention, anticipation and response.

I am glad to see today that the Carnegie group countries responded positively to this invitation, which is just another confirmation of the great importance of this issue.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the areas where strategic scientific partnerships between Europe and key international partners and organisations can help to plug the gaps in our knowledge in disaster management.

In particular, I would like to focus on the work of the European Commission’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, to support cooperation across the EU and internationally.

Since the Carnegie group discussions in June, another major disaster has hit: Superstorm Sandy left behind at least 180 deaths from Haiti to Canada with an estimated economic damage of more than $50 billion.

Disasters have always been with us, but there is clearly a growing trend of economic losses and negative consequences from natural and man-made disasters worldwide.

Nor is Europe spared.

The earthquakes in Italy earlier this year and in 2009; the floods in central Europe in 2010; the Xynthia windstorm in Western Europe in 2010 and the devastating heat wave in 2003 are reminders closer to home that we in Europe must maintain our efforts to better understand, assess and manage our risks and responses to disaster situations.

Studies also show that changes in the average temperature of the planet are translating into disproportionately bigger changes in the frequency and intensity of severe weather phenomena such as floods, droughts, storms, heat and cold waves and forest fires.

With further warming, what we recognise today as extreme events will become increasingly common in the near future – this means that we need appropriate adaptation strategies to cope with the consequences for both people and the environment.

For example, by the end of the century, extreme temperatures that currently occur every 20 years might occur every five years in Northern Europe, every two years in Central Europe and every year in the Mediterranean region.

While hazards and events do not differentiate between the developed and developing parts of the world, vulnerability, exposure and the capacity to cope vary enormously between low, medium and high income countries.

In lower income countries, in particular, natural hazards can setback development, force people further into the poverty trap and at worst lead to entire subsistence economies becoming unsustainable.

Over the years, the EU has developed several legal and financial instruments to complement national initiatives in disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Through them, the EU aims to ensure effective responses to disasters, both when they affect its own citizens but also when other countries need assistance. The first session today will give you an insight into these various instruments.

The EU’s recent initiatives on disaster risk management and its commitment to international initiatives such as the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 and Rio+20 also demonstrate our increasing emphasis on disaster resilience and anticipation.

Better science and better information is crucial in this area. Scientists therefore have a key role to play.

The Joint Research Centre is working strategically in cooperation with the Carnegie Group countries, the World Bank and the United Nations, and collaborating extensively with research institutions and scientific networks across the world.

Examples include the JRC's scientific and technical cooperation with UNOCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; trilateral scientific cooperation with the UN and the World Bank on post-crisis needs assessment for recovery planning and reconstruction; and a joint project with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on tsunami forecasting methods.

During today's sessions you will have the chance to learn more about the numerous initiatives that the JRC and the Carnegie Group countries are working on together.

Taking into account the EU's significant scientific and technical expertise in disaster management, I believe that further efforts could concentrate on the following three areas:

The first area is related to developing scientific expertise on issues such as the effects of climate change, rapid urbanisation and population growth and their consequences on hazards and adaptation strategies.

For example, the forthcoming EU Adaptation Strategy, to be adopted in 2013, will acknowledge that the management of weather-related disaster risks is part of our adaptation to climate change.

To help tackle this global challenge, the JRC will provide knowledge that will support both coherent disaster risk management and climate change adaptation policies, in particular, through its work on modelling.

The second area is related to improving our knowledge on the risk assessment of large-scale events, especially those that have cascading or interacting effects that cannot be addressed by single countries, particularly in the developing world, or that could have an international impact.

It is important to have sound, accessible and inter-operable definitions (for example to measure economic and human impacts), data, standards and methods for identifying, assessing and monitoring disaster risks.

I think that today's meeting can really contribute to this area in particular.

The third area is related to narrowing the gap between science, early action and disaster prevention.

A concrete example of this is the cooperation between the JRC and the UK Met Office aiming to do this by building sustainable partnerships to move from disaster response to early action and prevention.

This year, within the framework of the EU-Brazil strategic partnership, the JRC has launched new cooperation with the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

As a concrete follow-up, Brazilian scientists were trained in the Joint Research Centre to pave the way for the creation of CEMADEN, Brazil's National Centre for Natural Disasters Monitoring and Alerts. In 2013, training of Brazilian scientists at the JRC will continue.

I had the pleasure of visiting South Africa last month, and I am delighted that South Africa's National Space Agency (SANSA) and the JRC will this morning sign a collaboration arrangement to further increase their cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my conclusion, all these initiatives and efforts reflect a clear recognition that we need to respond to the growing challenges in disaster management in partnership with the Carnegie Group countries and with international organisations.

Joint action and investment are more efficient, more effective and more relevant.

Furthermore, the continuously rising costs of disasters within a climate of financial pressures call for urgent and proactive action to reduce risks across the globe.

We must ensure that budgetary pressures do not lead to cuts in research budgets that mean a reduction in exploratory research and scientific networking or in the dissemination of information across sectors and countries.

We need to support information exchange at all levels and to foster networks of inter-disciplinary communities among scientists, policymakers and end-users.

The prosecution in October this year of six Italian seismologists in relation to the 2009 Aquila earthquake has shown us all too clearly the negative results of a breakdown of trust and communication between these different groups.

Managing disaster risk is a joint responsibility, from citizens who must be empowered to make decisions that reduce risk, to governments, to the scientific community, to civil society organisations and to the private sector.

Coming back to today's meeting, in order to make the best use of our time, I would like to propose that your discussions could focus on the following issues, amongst others:

  • The development of international standards and interoperable methods to improve databases on global exposure and disaster loss for cases of multi-hazards to ensure that these databases are relevant to local, national and global level analysis;

  • The development of standards for multi-hazard risk assessment methodologies to facilitate the comparison of risks and the evaluation of their interactions; and

  • Improving the sharing of warnings, particularly for events that extend beyond borders.

Concrete examples that you can give in this context will certainly help to identify best practices to be shared with other partners.

I also trust that today's discussions will agree on possible new synergies or new scientific partnerships that could bridge the gap between science and policy making in this highly important field.

I look forward to hearing the results of today's meeting, and I will be pleased to convey the outcomes to my colleagues in the Carnegie group.

Thank you.

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