A Conversation on the Future of Central America: The Challenges of Climate Change and Natural Disasters

The Brookings Institution_IMG_8706Former President of Costa Rica José María Figueres commended efforts in adaptation and the GAIN Index during a keynote address March 29. Figueres spoke to more than 100 people attending the panel discussion, “A Conversation on the Future of Central America: The Challenges of Climate Change and Natural Disasters,” hosted by The Brookings Institution and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration in Washington, DC. 

”[GAIN CEO Juan José Daboub] mentioned major global trends such as population growth and urbanization…those nine billion of us that we will be in 35 years or less or seven billion today will want to live much better than we do today, and we have a right to meet that expectation,” Figueres said. “But then again, unless we change our way of going about development, we are facing the limits of our planetary system.

Figueres, an advocate for carbon and emissions reduction, also concurred with the importance of moving ahead with adaptation. This is particularly important, as until very recently there was not much discussion about adaptation at this level.

"I am in the [Dr. Daboub] camp – move forward [on adaptation] and be serious about the process," Figueres said. "Let’s do all we have to do because this is the time for 1,000 flowers to bloom – the challenge and opportunity are too big not to take advantage of everything going forward."

Dr. Daboub, also speaking at the event, presented the GAIN Index and the increasing need to adapt to climate change and other global forces in the context of challenges faced by Central American countries.

"$1 billion per year is estimated to be needed in Central America on adaptation," Dr. Daboub said. "No government can cover that, so the private sector needs to step up and help in filling the gap. Their creativeness and innovation will go a long way in finding solutions to save people’s lives and livelihoods."

The GAIN Index was developed as a navigation tool to help prioritize and measure progress in adapting to climate change and other global forces. It is targeted at governments, NGOs, international institutions and the private sector. It is hoped that the GAIN Index will be a tool used for illuminating the challenges, and identifying the most impactful areas for action to guide opportunities for private sector investment in adaptation.

Other panelists included Luis Alberto Ferraté, Senior Advisor-Instituto Privado de Investigación del Cambio Climático, Guatemala; Pascal Girot, Senior Climate Change Advisor-Latin America and the Caribbean CARE International; and Walter Wintzer, Coordinator-Preparedness and Response Program Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America. The panel was moderated by Katherine Sierra, Senior Fellow-The Brookings Institution.

Discussions addressed the numerous natural disasters that have hit Central America in recent years and how decision makers are leading the effort to adapt and implement early warning systems and disaster management protocol. 

More than 50,000 deaths have occurred in Central America in the past four years because of natural disaster and extreme weather events, said Kevin Casas-Zamora, Senior Fellow and Interim Director-Latin America Initiative, Brookings Institution, in his opening remarks. 

"If we don’t make investments in adaptation and research, the development gains and improved livelihoods throughout Central America will be lost,” Ferraté said. "But it will take millions of dollars."

Girot focused on water and energy issues. He urged improvement by implementing technology and innovation for water use in urban and rural farming communities. 

In closing remarks, former President Figueres said these are challenging times, and everyone needs to step up to the plate to move the needle in the right direction through cohesive coordination on global issues. 

For more information on the event, click here, and for additional photos of the event, click here.

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Photo above: From left, Dr. Juan José Daboub, GAIN Founding CEO, emphasizes a point about minimizing vulnerabilities in Central America, while Panel Moderator Katherine Sierra, Senior Fellow-The Brookings Institution, and Pascal Girot, Senior Climate Change Advisor, Latin America and the Caribbean-Care International, look on.