Climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters while vulnerable countries lack the proper infrastructure to counter them. To tackle this issue, vulnerable countries have been working on implementing early warning systems (EWS). In addition to saving lives, EWS provide reliable risk information which allows sound investments into a country’s infrastructure. However, these vulnerable countries often lack the capacity to install EWS and require cooperation from the international community to implement them.
Indonesia’s recent struggle with its EWS exemplifies the lack of capacity building. On September 28, 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake created a series of tsunamis that devastated the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Over 1,200 people were killed and over 61,000 displaced. A network of 22 buoys connected to seafloor sensors float off Indonesia’s coast, intended to warn the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics of tsunami activity. This high-tech EWS was installed after the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 150,000 people. However, the detection buoys were defective, leaving thousands of people helpless in the wake of the disaster. The agency did issue a tsunami warning, but lifted the warning after 34 minutes because the tsunami detection system did . According to Indonesia, the EWS has been malfunctioning since 2012 because it did not have the funding to repair or perform routine maintenance on EWS.
The UN has stressed the importance of implementing EWS since the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2005. However, the UNFCCC did not address early warning systems until COP16 created the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010. Nonetheless, the talks were important to build momentum to have EWS explicitly included into the Paris Agreement (PA) under Article 7(7)(c). This provision reads that Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation by “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making.”
The inclusion of EWS in the PA–a binding treaty–is crucial in helping vulnerable countries develop early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters. According to the WMO, 54% of surface stations and 71% of atmospheric weather stations emit no data. To address this issue, decision 1/CP.20 invited Parties to consider including an adaptation plan in their INDCs, and a majority of the Parties defined EWS as a priority for adaptation.
COP24 is especially important for the implementation of EWS because this COP will finalize the implementation rules for the PA. With the fifth anniversary of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) being held in Poland, loss and damage will likely be a prioritized negotiation which relies heavily on EWS. The 2018 Report of the Excom of WIM recommends cooperation to support preparedness through EWS — a hopeful sign for aiding vulnerable countries to maintain functional EWS and prevent another incident like Indonesia’s from happening again.