Statement by SRSG Mizutori at the International Conference and POP festival for Youth-Led Climate Action

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
SRSG Mami Mizutori

(Check against delivery)





DECEMBER 3, 2020


Distinguished delegates,

Children and youth of the world,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on the topic of disaster risk reduction during this important event.

Let me start by stating plainly that there is no escaping the reality that the world is in a mess right now. Yesterday, in his speech on the ‘The State of the Planet’ delivered at Columbia University,  the UN Secretary General said quite bluntly that ‘ To put it simply. The state of the planet is broken’.

Nobody knows or feels this more than those under 30 years old , whose birthright as citizens of the Anthropocene is a world that is living through serial catastrophes.

The children and youth of today, you are experiencing a period of remarkable change in the state of the world around you.

Uncontrolled consumption of natural resources especially, fossil fuels has enriched the few, but created a climate emergency which threatens the survival of the planet and our species.

It is no wonder then that there is much discussion lately about making the destruction of the world’s ecosystems – including the oceans - a criminal offence.

At the same time, biological hazards are no longer the stuff of science fiction.

The same destructive instincts which have driven the climate emergency, are behind the increasing chances of zoonotic diseases bringing life on earth to a shuddering halt.

It would be an unwelcome but apt conclusion to 2020, if this year turns out to be the warmest on record.

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone.

Certain groups in society have suffered more than others.

These include the poorest of the poor, often lacking the resources to survive lockdowns. Older persons denied human contact and in isolation. People with disabilities who can no longer access therapy and rehabilitation.

BUT, the group that concerns me the most are the children and youth of this world whose lives have been suspended at an age when the world should be full of hope and possibility.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction recently published the Human Cost of Disasters Report. The Report shows that over the last twenty years, climate-related disasters have almost doubled by comparison with the previous twenty years, affecting over four billion people, many more than once.

We are all being radicalized by this reality, but none more so than the youth who will have to live with the consequences of global warming for the rest of their adult lives.

Even if we achieve the crucial goal of limiting global warming to 1.5˚C rise in comparison to pre-industrial levels, climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth will only increase during our lifetime, your lifetime and many generations to come.

Just when COVID-19 arrived, the world seemed on course for a revolution in the way that the world’s youth were impacting on our most pressing concern, climate change.

Mahatma Gandhi famously urged us all to be the change that we want to see in the world.

Few have been as good at putting that into practice as the Swedish youth activist, Greta Thunberg, who has gone from being a lone voice at the gate of her school to an activist on the world stage who commands the attention of world leaders, those who are tasked with finding solutions to the climate emergency.

Many of her contemporaries are in no doubt that the solution to the long-term problem of climate change is a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to rise.

The voice of the world’s youth - half the global population - has been a powerful force in driving many countries to develop plans to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The jury will be out for some time to come on whether political leaders will deliver on that aspiration, and not leave it as an aspiration.

Delivery is essential because if COVID-19 has not stilled the righteous anger of global youth, then nothing will.

While reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are essential to the well-being of generations not yet born, we will still have to live with the consequences of climate change for many generations to come. I have said this already in my remarks today but I will repeat this.

It is partly in recognition of this, that five years ago, nine months before the Paris Agreement on Climate was adopted, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was also adopted in the same year.

The Sendai Framework sets out in clear terms the need for a systemic approach to managing disaster risk by considering the increasing threat posed by extreme weather events and biological hazards. The Sendai Framework recognizes that it is not enough to respond to disasters after they strike us, we need to manage the risk before they become disasters.

The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction recognizes that it is not climate change alone that we need to be alert to, but the many ways in which it can overlap and interact with other drivers of disaster risk.

Drivers such as poverty, rising sea levels, changes in Arctic sea ice, the die off of coral reefs and other ecosystems, unplanned urbanization, lack of building codes and regulation of land use, and weak risk governance.

This last point, weak risk governance, is the most important driver of disaster losses, weak risk governance.

When good governance is absent, we can see anomalies that defy common sense, such as large subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and a failure to respond to early warnings about the pandemic threat.

The Sendai Framework recognizes that an important part of handling human-induced hazards and natural hazards is to strengthen this, strengthen disaster risk governance.

Post-disaster, you can actually measure whether good disaster risk governance was in place, in the numbers of lives saved; the number of people who avoided losing their health, their jobs and opportunity to education; the survival of schools, hospitals and public utilities; and reduced economic losses. The opposite of what we are seeing right now.

One of the most important elements in achieving these targets, which are set out in the Sendai Framework, is to ensure a broader and more people-centered approach to the issue of how we manage disaster risk before the risk becomes a real disaster which strikes us.

Governments have the primary role in protecting their citizens and developing national and local strategies for disaster risk, this is to have a plan before risk becomes a disaster. This is something governments of UN member states agreed to do by 2020 in line with the Sendai Framework, and something which 93 of them have so far managed to do.

Nonetheless, governments cannot do all this on their own, and they shouldn’t. They need to do this with all stakeholders and I mean all, including children and youth. Listening to your voices should not be a token act. Your voices and needs should be integrated into this plans.

And democracies means that Governments need to be held accountable for their actions and the lack of them in some cases.

Accountability and progress require the engagement of civil society, and especially of the youth, who need to be at the table in discussions on developing and implementing these strategies to reduce disaster risk both at national and local level.

The Sendai Framework adopted unanimously by UN member States calls for the promotion of youth leadership as a guiding principle

That is why, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has been working hard over the last five years to mainstream youth participation in the work of disaster risk reduction, and to welcome youth participation in all our regional conferences and at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

This is not a surprise given that the threat and reality of disasters are impacting so much the lives of children and youth because of the climate emergency and the pandemic.

We have seen across the globe the increasing level of activism by the world’s youth who do not want to be passive victims, but wish to become true agents of change with a vast potential to manage and respond to risks in their own communities from recycling to environmental protection.

They are standing up for their fundamental rights to education, participation and survival.

They know better than most that collective action is vital to solving the problems of a world that is in existential crisis, as the list of risk continues to grow, especially in least developed countries and small island developing states, which have profited little from the riches generated by the fossil fuel industry.

The youth of the world are in the vanguard of change when it comes to advocating for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and an end to environmental destruction and the loss of biodiversity.

My message today to the youth is, that while calling for and activating for mitigation of greenhouse gas emission is crucial, you also need to give the same level of energy and attention to the issue of managing disaster risk and adapting to the climate emergency.


It is because, if we cannot manage risk and prevent all the risk surrounding us from turning into disasters, if we cannot adapt wisely to climate change, the number of casualties and people affected will just continue to rise. Calling for stronger disaster risk reduction management measures and climate adaptation  is about building resilience. And we need to be much more resilient because we have to go through three more decades in order to reach net zero carbon emission. If we cannot prevent disasters and adapt well to climate emergency, by the time we reach 2050 there would have been too much damage done.

Calling for climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction does not mean defeat. Does not mean defeat that mitigation is not working. We need to call for both.

This is essential.

Ensuring the participation of youth in this work of disaster risk reduction is a key driver behind the UNDRR Youth Engagement Action Plan which is being implemented in coordination with the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, UNICEF and UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development.

For several years now we have also been working closely with the Major Group on Children and Youth ,who have been able to contribute to and amplify our advocacy efforts.

Here are just some examples of the exciting work that gives hope for a better and more resilient future.

Over 20 webinars on COVID-19 and climate change have been organized this year for and with youth and children to ensure they are engaged and part of the conversation about response and recovery to COVID-19.

Young scientists were actively engaged in defining and classifying natural and human-induced hazards under the Sendai Framework for inclusion in national strategies for disaster risk reduction.

There is an initiative underway in India to build the capacity of students in disaster risk management through University Networks.

All our regional offices are engaging with youth groups to ensure their full participation in a new round of five regional conferences for disaster risk reduction next year in Africa, Asia and the Pacific,  Americas and the Caribbean, the Arab States and Europe, these conferences will be opportunities to assess progress in implementing the Sendai Framework as the UN Decade of Action gets underway.

Children and youth can clearly play a part in spreading awareness of the issues we are discussing here today, in the classrooms, in the streets and in the homes.

In places where the climate emergency is already a daily reality and communities are in crisis, it is often the youth who take up the task of providing humanitarian assistance through the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other groups. Last year at COP25, I had the opportunity to exchange views with young volunteers of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent movement.

“Nothing about us without us” is a mantra that UNDRR has taken to heart in our efforts to promote a genuinely inclusive approach to disaster risk reduction.

A gender balance is essential, but so is an age balance when it comes to developing and implementing plans to create a more resilient world.

We need to embrace youth as agents of change. Nobody has more at stake in the quest to create a more resilient world.

Thank you for your attention.

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