Sendai Conference raises the curtain for the post-2015 development agenda, focusing on disaster risk reduction


Jozenji-dori Avenue in Aoba-ku, Sendai. Picture by Atsi Otani via Wikimedia.

On 13-18 March 2014, ICLEI Member City Sendai (Japan) will host the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). The conference aims to finalize the design of the international and multistakeholder framework of collaboration on disaster risk reduction for the next couple of decades. WCDRR is of particular importance as the first decadal intergovernmental conference of 2015. Thus WCDRR may have significant impacts in setting the stage for many parallel processes that will shape the global development agenda in the post2015 period, including: the UN Post2015 Summit in September that will finalize the transition from Millenium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals; the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21/CMP11) in Paris in December; and the HABITAT-III Conference to be held in Quito in October 2016.


The designation of the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction marks the start of related global efforts. Within this scope, the first World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction was convened in Yokohama, Japan, on 23-27 May 1994, resulting in the adoption of the Yokohama Strategy.

However, it has to be noted that the Yokohama Conference and the Strategy specifically focused on natural disasters, thus precluding any specific vision to respond to man-made disasters like the Bhopal chemicals leakage disaster in 1984 or the nuclear disaster in Tchernobly in 1986. The Yokohama Conference was also convened through the legacy of 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and just two months after the entry into force of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The International Decade concluded with the establishment of the Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction as an inter-agency within the UN System in 2000.

Seven months after the Yokohama Conference, on 17 January 1995, Kobe City in Japan was hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

The 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction was convened in Kobe, Japan, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Kobe Earthquake in 2005, and just 15 days after 2004 Indian Ocean and Tsunami.

Both the Conference and the resulting document – the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA), focusing on 2005-2015 – had a broader vision, referring to hazards of natural origin and related environmental and technological hazards and risks. By the time HFA was adopted, the UNFCCC did not have any specific provisions on climate change adaptation.

The “Making Cities Resilient Campaign” was launched in 2010 by the UN ISDR as a way to implement HFA with local governments through a global awareness raising campaign, mobilizing political commitments through Ten Essentials and implementing a self-assessment monitoring practice.

Preparations and agenda of WCDRR

The WCDRR consists of three main segments: Intergovernmental sessions, Multistakeholder Dialogues, and the Public Forum.141126_wcdrr-logo-desktop-v3.0_cropped

Intergovernmental sessions include negotiations by national governments of the outcome document and of the declaration that will define the framework in the post2015 period; and official plenaries, with statements by Member States and observers and Ministerial Roundtables and High Level Dialogues.

Multistakeholder Dialogues include working sessions that enable an exchange of experience and information on numerous topics by a wide variety of stakeholders.

Public Forums consists of side events organized by stakeholders, exhibits, and special events primarily convened by the City of Sendai with a broad range of partners.

While dialogues, roundtables and side events are important elements for advancing dialogue and partnerships among actors and stakeholder, the negotiated document that will shape the next two decades of the international framework in terms of vision, ambitions, commitments of national governments and the UN system will be the most important outcome of the Sendai Conference. This process was conducted through the work of the Preparatory Committee, which met officially twice in July and November 2014 in Geneva, with a number of informal consultations in between. The third meeting will take place in Sendai on 13 March and may continue throughout the WCDRR in order to reach a consensus on all items.

Local governments at WCDRR

ICLEI and UCLG are the Organizing Partners of the Local Authorities Major Group at the WCDRR process, in close collaboration with the “Making Cities Resilient Campaign” secretariat. This includes accreditation support to representatives of local governments; contributing to the negotiations through dialogue with delegations, and delivering interventions as appropriate; and providing recommendations for local government representatives in various sessions. In addition to active engagement in the two Preparatory Meetings, a special Local Authorities Roundtable will be held on 13 March, which will conclude with the Sendai Declaration of Local and Subnational Governments. A number of local government leaders and staff will participate in a number of Roundtables and sessions as speakers.

Expected Highlights of HFA in the post2015 period

The Co-Chairs of the Preparatory Committee released their initial pre-zero order draft text after the first meeting in July. Based on their informal consultations with national governments and representatives of stakeholders, the Zero Order draft text was released ahead of the second meeting November. Since then, revised versions of this text are being produced based on the consensus achieved among national governments.

The new framework currently under negotiation includes a number of new, significant and innovative elements. These include: a much broader recognition and engagement of stakeholders; strong references to the empowerment and capacity building of local authorities; convening local platforms in addition to national platforms; the concept of “Build Back Better”, which enables synergy with ecosystem and community based adaptation; a vision for quantifiable time-bounded targets and indicators; and an appeal to mandate the High Level Political Forum to play a coordination role to ensure synergy and integrity with other post2015 processes.

However, the new framework does not provide any specific guidance or recognition to high-risk energy facilities, insurance schemes or preventive mitigation activities like a transition to renewables or early relocation as disaster risk reduction.

Lack of any reference to energy or power sectors, and even removal of the only reference to power plants in the current HFA text, is a particular issue considering the fact that the adverse impacts of disasters are easily and very often exacerbated with the poor resilience of high-risk industrial and energy facilities, as has been in the case with Hurricane Katrina (2005), Fukushima (2011), the BP Deepwater Horizon spill (2010), the India Power Blackout (2012), and the Lac-Megantic Train Explosion (2013).

ICLEI – Resilient Cities – Urban Adaptation – HFA – WCDRR

Resilient_cities-series_logo_Aug2012_rgbICLEI´s work on Resilient Cities dates back to 2002, as a response to the 1999 Marmara Earthquake in Turkey. Over time, particular progress had been made in particular in developing tools and guidance in urban adaptation. In 2010, ICLEI launched the Resilient Cities Congress as an annual global forum. This also hosted the global launch of the UN ISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign, with the participation of Margareta Wahlström as the first Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, who also acted as the Patron of the Congress. As part of its support to the Campaign, ICLEI participated in the Steering Committee and contributed to the development of Self-Assessment Tool and the handbook for local governments.

Meanwhile, ICLEI also supported the City of Durban in the development of the Durban Adaptation Charter, which was launched in 2011 along the margins of UN Durban Climate Change Conference, as well as in its dissemination and monitoring worldwide. In 2014 at the 7th World Urban Forum, ICLEI joined forces with leading partners in the Medellin Collaboration. At the Climate Summit 2014, ICLEI acted as the core partner of the Compact of Mayors and endorsed the Resilient Cities Accelerator Initiative.

A number of ICLEI members will be actively involved at the WCDRR in Ministerial Roundtables and Working Sessions, including: the Governor of Bangkok, who will present the outcomes of the 1st Resilient Cities Asia Pacific Congress; the Mayor of Bogota, who will provide updates on the Durban Adaptation Charter and regional initiatives in Latin America; and the Mayor of Grand Rapids, who will share the experience through Resilient Cities for America and the White House Task Force of State, Local and Tribal Leaders on Resilience.

At WCDRR, ICLEI will also announce commitments that aim a) to ensure synergy and integrity between Ten Essentials of Making Cities Resilient Campaign and ICLEI´s Resilient Cities Agenda, Energy Safe Cities Network Asia, the Global 100% Renewables  Campaign, the GreenClimateCities Programme and the Durban Adaptation Charter; and b) to position the Resilient Cities Congress Series as the annual forum to monitor progress and share practices on the implementation of HFA and Ten Essentials in the post2015 period at the local level.


You can follow updates from ICLEI towards and during the WCDRR at the Resilient Cities Congress website.