In this special podcast, we sit down with Maarten van Aalst to discuss climate resilience and his role in the Climate CoLab A2R contest.
As the director of the Climate Center, van Aalst coordinates support for climate risk management across the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
He explains how the UN’s A2R initiatives (Anticipate, Absorb, Reshape), which launched at Paris COP21, helps implement protection and resources for vulnerable communities during environmental crises. He utilizes the scientific capacity to translate forecasts into humanitarian action.
Van Aalst also discusses the current Climate CoLab competition "Absorbing Climate Risks," which focuses on developing climate risk insurance solutions to help protect those most vulnerable to environmental issues. All are encouraged to explore and contribute to the latest competition, co-sponsored by UN A2R and InsuResilience Global Partnership, which seeks new ways to couple climate risk insurance with other social protections to help vulnerable communities absorb climate impacts. Visit climatecolab.org to learn more.
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[00:00:00:02] SPEAKER 1: How can we use insurance products as well as social protection systems in the end to help those most vulnerable communities absorb climate impacts?
[00:00:08:13] [MUSIC PLAYING]
[00:00:13:04] CURT NEWTON: Today on the Climate Conversations Podcast, we're speaking about climate resilience at the grand scale, United Nations style, and also at the very down to earth level, and in fact places that you can get involved through our friends at the Climate CoLab. We're speaking today with Maarten van Aalst, who's the director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and also part of the leadership of the United Nations Climate Resilience Initiative, also known A2R, who is sponsoring some of these contests on the Climate CoLab. I'm Curt Newton, and I'm flying solo in the podcast today. Welcome, Maarten.
[00:00:48:19] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Pleasure, good morning.
[00:00:49:21] CURT NEWTON: Wonder if we could just start by having you introduce yourself a little bit, your path from being a scientist to doing this very human work of climate resilience in developing countries.
[00:01:00:13] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, sure. So I lead a team-- a reference center basically for primarily the International Red Cross Red Crescent movement, which is a system of national Red Crosses like the American Red Cross United States. But we've got one in virtually every country dealing with all kinds of problems people might have, but especially also natural disasters that are already affected by climate change. So we support that global system in dealing with all the impacts of these risks, particularly also understanding what's coming.
[00:01:27:12] And in doing so, I think, in a way my own career path is typical for what we see as needed. I actually started out originally in astrophysics but in an atmospheric modeling. And while I really liked the science and enjoyed the intellectual challenges of the pure academic interests of what's changing the climate, I also quickly realized that what's really needed is to bridge the gap between that academic knowledge and the application to places where it actually is needed most. And unfortunately some of the places that are most vulnerable actually lack the science the most as well. We lack the data. We lack the attention of a modern community.
[00:02:03:19] So one of the things my center tries to do is to actually bridge that gap, which includes setting research agendas making sure we get the right questions asked to inform our operations in a Red Cross Red Crescent as well as all its partners like a UN system in governments, local communities, local mayors-- but particularly also thinking about decision making and how people can actually apply that knowledge to primarily act earlier-- either more effectively respond to crises when they occur, but ideally even anticipate them and try to avoid some of the impacts by investing beforehand other then after it's already happened.
[00:02:35:07] CURT NEWTON: Really good. I think we'll want to come back and speak more generally about the topic of climate resilience and what that looks like around the world. Maybe if you could help us set the stage by giving us an example or two of a specific program or progress that's being made in this area in some country.
[00:02:53:02] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, so as I was mentioning already, Red Cross Red Crescent national society's respond to these disasters around the world on an almost daily basis. And one of our strengths is that we have communities volunteers in the smallest places-- most vulnerable places. And they're often the first there to respond when something occurs. And we also have a very strong international network. And there's a lot of generosity in the world actually supporting our work and the work of other humanitarian organizations when things go wrong around the world.
[00:03:22:06] And the only challenge that we have traditionally faced is that that money starts to flow when there is suffering that's visible. And traditionally that has also even influenced the way our system is responding to these problems. So we are often really good at organizing shelter, organizing medication, food after people are already in trouble. But basically since the 1980s, we started realizing that it's much more effective in terms of preventing human suffering, but also actually more cost effective per dollar spent, if we can use some of those resources beforehand.
[00:03:55:07] So gradually there's been a greater interest in investing in disaster risk reduction. So for instance helping communities think about agricultural practices that make them less vulnerable to flooding, for instance, or to droughts-- construction of houses and earthquake zones-- but even simple behavioral things like having ideas about evacuation routes when an early warning comes. One of the challenges is that while there's been good investment in that-- or at least growing investment in that responds to changing average risks. Whenever a forecast came of a particularly elevated risk in a short period of time, it was still very, very difficult to allocate resources to an early action that made a lot of sense at that time.
[00:04:35:19] And to give you one example from Uganda, for instance, we've had areas that see recurrent flooding every three, five, sometimes 10 years, depending on the region. They would get a major flooding episode. And we would see that flooding almost invariably also followed by disease outbreaks like cholera for instance, which is a very treatable disease. But it's expensive if you have to go in after the fact and treat people that are already ill.
[00:04:58:24] Now if we could just see that flooding coming and distribute water containers and chlorine tablets in advance, we could actually ensure people have safe drinking water throughout the flooding episode and thus prevent a very costly response afterwards and actually make people more resilient to the event when it happens. Now that will be seen by the traditional humanitarian donors as something directly tied to that particular flooding episode.
[00:05:24:16] And historically they would say, when we have an early warning, either you need to pay from your existing budgets, which are very small, because we're very stretched, because disasters around the world are increasing. So we're constantly fighting fires around the world. Or you just basically have to wait until you're 100% sure that the disaster really occurs, because they also couldn't afford once in a while giving us money. And then we would preallocate these resources, and then the disaster would not happen, which happens if you have a forecast and you want to act early. Once in a while, the forecast may not materialize exactly as science predicted.
[00:05:54:22] So we've done now and piloted this in a number of countries first. And it's now growing. We've got 15. And that number is rising rapidly-- something we're calling forecast-based financing where we actually pre-agree-- first of all in the local context, when it makes sense to start taking these early actions when a forecast hits a certain level of severity, we also pre-agree with actors in the donor community that they will then allow us to use those resources earlier to prevent human suffering and in the end, dollar for dollar, have a higher humanitarian impact.
[00:06:25:06] So it's an example of where science meets very practical local things like distributing water containers and chlorine tablets. And where we're building scientific capacity to actually translate forecasts into actionable items-- but also reforming the humanitarian system-- and in the end also the development system working with these governments there-- with local government-- working with the national meteorological agency in Uganda for instance to become much more effective using science to prevent human suffering.
[00:06:50:15] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, so it sounds like you're trying to push the resilience projects to be more proactive and more, I guess, ready to respond when things happen in a much more effective way compared to the, say, historically more reactive way that we've been doing these things. A disaster happens, and we mass tremendous resources of people, and time, and money. And while that's all well and good, you're saying we can be much more effective if we just do this intelligently a little bit ahead of the game.
[00:07:21:26] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Exactly.
[00:07:22:11] CURT NEWTON: Yeah.
[00:07:23:01] MAARTEN VAN AALST: And then we also find out in having those discussions with people that there's much more structural things to be done. I shouldn't claim that building resilience is only about anticipating for these types of collaborations. In quite of few cases, it's also, for instance, about the fact that hillsides have been deforested. And the waters are just coming down much more quickly. So taking good care of the natural resources in the upper stream flow of a river basin can also be a much more effective way than building additional dikes and levees downstream or us doing evacuations once it's basically already in some ways too late.
[00:07:54:10] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, and here in the United States, 2017 has looked like a very high climate risk year. There's been a tremendous number and range of different kinds of disasters. And I know that that's-- a country like the US is a little outside the scope of what you typically focus on being a wealthy country. Is that correct?
[00:08:15:22] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Well, we see the impacts globally. And we also support the American Red Cross in dealing with the risks in the United States. But you're right that our primary concern is about the places that are most vulnerable. And what you see in the United States is a lot of economic losses but relatively limited loss of life. And in the end, as a humanitarian organization, I guess the latter is our first and foremost concern. But I wouldn't agree with the-- with the notion that it's restricted only to developing countries.
[00:08:41:26] In the United States, the American Red Cross has been out in Houston, for instance, providing shelter to people hit by the flooding. And in the end, someone suffering from a natural disaster is someone flooding from a natural disaster. Rising heatwaves in many Western countries are a growing concern for us. And in my own home country, the Netherlands, for instance, if I ask people on the streets what have been the three most deadly natural disasters in our country in the past 100 years, everyone still remembers the 1953 flood. Or actually they know it from being told. And it's in the school books. And it triggered that massive investment in our coastal defenses.
[00:09:13:19] Very few people realized that the other two most deadly killers were two heatwaves in 2003 and 2006. And it's not by accident that they happened in the last 20 years, because that risk has increased about tenfold. And at the same time we have growing cities. We have an aging population. So those risks are rising dramatically also in developing countries. And International Red Cross Societies like, in this case, the Netherlands's Red Cross also play a role discussing those risks with our governments. And in the Netherlands for instance, the Red Cross initiated the development of a national heatwave plan, which we didn't have until 2006.
[00:09:46:07] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, I'm thinking about the most recent climate-related disaster in the United States was the mudslides in California driven by the destruction of all the vegetation. That seems like the kind of thing that with some of the modeling and advance thinking that you've been speaking about, some of that mudslide devastation possibly could have been identified and averted.
[00:10:06:20] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, what you always see is it's a combination of, in some cases, a rising climate risk. In some cases also maybe the climate remains the same, or even the climate risk is going down-- but then also the exposure of assets to that risk. So for instance in urban areas, you often see a rapid concentration of assets and people in a very small area sometimes at the mouth of a river for instance, which is already prone to flooding-- and then their vulnerability. And in this example that you gave-- mudslides-- it's often got to do with land use choices-- how vulnerable we are to those risks. So one part of the risk is caused by the atmosphere. The other part is in a way constructed by the way we actively manage risk or choose to ignore those risks as we develop our societies.
[00:10:49:22] CURT NEWTON: Right, I'd like to maybe turn the conversation a little bit in the direction of getting into some of these contests and ways that people can get involved. So you're in the leadership of the United Nations Climate Resilience Initiative, which has the tagline A2R. That refers to three key resilience capacities of anticipate, absorb, and reshape. Can you unpack those three terms for our listeners? Just briefly introduce what's going on in those three capacities-- why they need more attention.
[00:11:19:14] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, so maybe taking one step back, A2R was launched by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, actually originally in Paris, and then in the final year of his term, formally established in terms of this leadership group and the range of activities. But in response to the framing of the Paris agreement-- as really having three major pillars; so increasing our capacity to anticipate disasters, but also stresses and trends that are coming our way; to some extent anticipating what we should be expecting in the climate of today, even though we may not be used to that, and then enabling the actions to be taken once we anticipate a problem.
[00:11:57:26] The second one is accepting that we're not going to be able to anticipate and then resolve all of these challenges. We will still face the impacts of disasters and a growing impact of disasters. And of course we see that also in the statistics. The number of disasters in the past decade has been much higher than it was two decades ago. And the economic losses are mounting. You know, we recently did the tally for 2017 and came up with, I think, $330 billion dollars. So that's the sort of price we're paying for these risks.
[00:12:27:09] And on the one hand, we can try and reduce it. But on the other hand, we'll also have to be better at absorbing those losses and ensuring that especially in the most vulnerable have ways of coping with those impacts. When a well-insured family-- their home gets damaged for instance. They'll get an insurance pay out, and they'll rebuild quickly.
[00:12:47:02] Typically the most vulnerable, and especially in developing countries, don't have access to those instruments. In some other cases, it may be social safety nets. So their governments may need to purchase insurance to be able to then support their own population. And getting better at absorbing those shocks also allows us to get back to business as normal, quickly. And if you do it well, you can also use those mechanisms to absorb shocks, like insurance, as incentives to reduce the risk.
[00:13:12:02] And that brings me to the third pillar-- this reshape pillar. And it's really about reshaping the way we make decisions about risks, and ensuring that we're well informed when we make plans that affect our vulnerability in the short-term but particularly in the longer term future. And it's especially important, for instance, in the context of urban areas where we know a larger proportion of the global population is living in these cities.
[00:13:34:21] They're developing really rapidly. The choices we make there now really determines what risks we'll face in 2050 alongside, of course, what we do to the global climate. So those are basically the three big pillars; anticipating disasters and being able to act early; absorbing the shocks, because we will still see the rising impacts even if we do well on the other two pillars; and reshaping the risks that we'll face in the future by making smart choices in how we develop our societies.
[00:14:02:05] CURT NEWTON: Thanks, Maarten. That's a really grand and important vision and mission that you've laid out there. And I imagine some people hear those kind of things and think, wow, that's such an immense set of challenges. What could I possibly do to contribute?
[00:14:16:25] And you have been working with this Climate CoLab organization, which is online at climatecolab.org, to create and run a series of contests where people from whatever expertise and background and perspectives they're bringing to it can contribute proposals, put those before an esteemed panel of advisors, and judges, and potential collaborators, and work through a process to make those proposals even stronger ways to contribute to different aspects of these resilience initiatives. What brought you to the Climate CoLab? What were you hoping to achieve specifically in creating some of these contests?
[00:14:59:05] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Well, I liked how you described the really grand challenge posed by those three pillars of A2R. And it crosscuts so many of these grand sustainable development goals that the world has set itself in 2015, the same year that the Paris Agreement was initiated. These are basically our highest aspirations for everything we want to achieve on earth; increasing health status, increasing prosperity, keeping people safe from disasters-- all of these things.
[00:15:23:20] Now if you want to achieve that, in the end you need to think about systems. But you also need to incentivize really practical small scale actions, particularly the actions that really make a difference and go beyond business as usual. Because we know for many of these challenges, if we just try to do the right thing on a day-to-day basis, we're not going to get there. So we need innovative thinking that is out of the box, but on the other hand, very concrete at the local scale. And it has the potential to inspire and get implemented at a grander scale.
[00:15:53:21] So what I thought was really interesting about the Climate Colab is that you inspire some of the best brains to come up with really creative solutions for these problems at sometimes very small scales, but then also have criteria that screened those proposals not only for innovativeness and feasibility at that local scale, but also the ability to inspire and to scale up. And we did that already in a previous contest that was focused on the anticipate column. And the next one is going to look at the second column to innovate to absorb shocks. And it's wonderful to get the creative ideas of so many good brains. And it was a delight to be a judge on the first contest and see all the creative juices coming out of that community.
[00:16:34:18] CURT NEWTON: Can you share a highlight or two from that first contest? Give people a clear picture of the nature of the proposals and where they're coming from.
[00:16:42:22] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, I think the proposals, at least the shortest ones, are online. It's fantastic to look at it. It went from very practical solutions of little boats that could also be used in different ways as there was no need to use it as a boat for a flooding episode to a better early warning systems communications systems. But in the end, the one that won really stood out for all the judges. It's a proposal by Rommel Lo from the Philippine Damaguete Effata Association of the Deaf.
[00:17:09:00] And they had diagnosed that there was no sign language for some of the most important early warning terms. So what they proposed is the development of a sign language to be able to communicate early warnings, and then also the protocols to actually make sure that people are able to get that information to the right people at the right time and think about the actions they would take. But on the one hand, it sort of seems obvious-- but something that gets forgotten apparently at least in this context-- but I think around the world.
[00:17:39:08] We don't naturally think about this. But of course people with disabilities can be among the most vulnerable to these shocks when they occur. And in this case also coming up with a very simple practical solution that could be taken to scale to other languages-- but of course even beyond the reach of this one project in the Philippines to the rest of that language. We're already working, by the way, with Rommel and his organizationals to think about how to take this to a larger scale to other countries-- and working with international organizations working on these topics as well. So it's clear that he also inspired already that bigger thinking.
[00:18:11:01] CURT NEWTON: Brilliant, brilliant. And so when you win one of these contests, the doors open for you in terms of further support and scaling up and refining the ideas? Is that the idea?
[00:18:21:01] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, at least that's the idea. The absorb contest that's being launched now comes with some seed funding, I think $40,000 or so to get started, and some support in terms of mentoring from some organizations already working in this field. What we had in the anticipate column-- and I think will happen again with the absorb contest-- is that you get the opportunity to come to the fora where these ideas are discussed at the global scale.
[00:18:44:24] In the case of Rommel Lo, he presented his ideas to this A2R leadership group, which was meeting in the global climate negotiations in [? Bonn ?] this year. And also he presented the same ideas at several of the highest level fora. So for instance, there was a high level roundtable among ministers, heads of agencies, CEOs of major companies discussing this resilience challenge under the Paris Agreement. He was asked to present his idea there as well.
[00:19:10:21] And of course, the context that you see, they're the ideas you get. But also the practical follow up-- in this case also thinking through whether we can package some of these ideas for a number of countries possible presented to the Green Climate Fund. Those are unique opportunities for someone with a really good idea-- but then getting the support and the entry points to take it to scale.
[00:19:28:04] CURT NEWTON: Fantastic, let's talk a little bit more specifically about the contest that's currently open. And that one is called-- as you said, it's under the absorb pillar from A2R-- Absorbing Climate Risk. And that's a partnership with you and A2R and the InsuResilience Global Partnership, I see, yeah.
[00:19:45:15] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Exactly, yeah.
[00:19:46:18] CURT NEWTON: And this involves ways to couple climate risk insurance with other forms of social protection. And that contest is open for initial proposals through February 11. So hopefully that gives our listeners a couple of weeks to jump in and get involved-- if you'll tell us a little more specifically what kinds of things you're looking for in regards to this insurance coupling with other social protections.
[00:20:11:19] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, sure. So there's a lot of interest to apply the knowledge from the insurance sector and the ability that they have to transfer risk to the problem of increasing climate extremes. And as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, insurance is widely available in many developed countries, but much less so in developing countries. Now insurance may not always be the best solution for the poorest of the poor, who may not be able to afford the premiums. But it could be a solution for lower middle class or middle class segment of the economy.
[00:20:43:03] It could also be a solution for governments or businesses that can buffer themselves better to shocks. One of the questions that we're interested to explore here is how it can be particularly useful in some sort of a set up combining these different elements or coming up with novel solutions for the most vulnerable groups. And traditionally those most vulnerable have been served by what are called social safety nets or social protection systems, where typically a government would do a pay out to people in, well, times of trouble. You can think of insurance that you can get to-- even health insurance is a form of social protection, often procured privately-- in quite a few countries also provided by the government or is-- or government sponsored.
[00:21:25:16] But you have unemployment benefits in quite a few countries. There's also countries like Ethiopia, for instance, that have a safety net program to prevent people from famine. In the 1980s, we had these massive famines in Ethiopia. Thousands and thousands of people died. And now there is a cash transfer program that allows people to work for some basic benefits to be able to get through those periods of hardship.
[00:21:48:26] Now the question is how do these different instruments combine? So can we use insurance in combination with these social protection systems in ways that increase the availability of these systems to a wider range of people, that in a smart way combine public and private flows of funding to get a better reach or a bigger impact for those people? Are there ways to incentivize reducing risk, while we provide these insurance instruments and social protection?
[00:22:19:25] So the whole gamut of all of those areas of interest is open. And we're basically challenging the whole community in that field. How can we use insurance products as well as social protection systems in the end to help those most vulnerable communities absorb climate impacts? And it's a massive field. So we are open to any kind of idea from the very small to the very grand. But in the end-- tested for innovation, feasibility, and also, to some extent, feasibility not just at the tiny scale, but also having the possibility to inspire and scale up.
[00:22:52:28] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, so I imagine some familiarity with some detail aspect of the insurance world is helpful but absolutely not required to get involved here.
[00:23:03:09] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Exactly, just think out of the box. I mean everyone knows in a basic sense what insurance is about. And I don't want to be naive. So let's not pretend that nothing has ever been thought about in terms of providing insurance to the poor. We know in practice also that there is a transaction cost to providing insurance. And insurance is not the solution for everyone. Especially the poorest of the poor, experiments have not turned out so great if you just think insurance on its own is the solution. That's also why the suggestion is to look at the combination of insurance and social protection.
[00:23:35:16] But on the other hand, there is a lot of common sense involved in what might work and what will not work. And I would really challenge people to think out of the box. And don't spend months and months-- in fact you don't have that time until the deadline-- to develop a super-detailed business case. But also provide some fresh ideas. And just jot them down quickly. And let's see how they do in the contest.
[00:23:56:10] CURT NEWTON: On the contest page, I believe, you have to click the Learn More from the front page of the contest. There's a really nice collection of background materials and resources, if you want to see a little bit more about the work that has gone on in this-- in this space-- and help you-- help you frame your thinking-- highly recommend that. And we'll put a link up to that.
[00:24:14:09] MAARTEN VAN AALST: That's great. And you can see that there's already a number of proposals online. So that can get you thinking. What you see in quite a few of those proposals is also that it's often about setting up smart ways of generating cold benefits-- so providing a subsidized premium provided people also reduce risk by doing some intervention that helps actually reduce the risk, and therefore also in the end reduces the amount of payouts, for instance. You can think of interesting business models. And there's already a number of proposals just to get your brain thinking about the sort of solutions that might be proposed.
[00:24:44:28] CURT NEWTON: Great. When it comes to funding these types of programs, do you feel like this is something that the UN Green Climate Fund, should it be funded as it was supposed to be-- should that be a source of money for these programs?
[00:24:58:06] MAARTEN VAN AALST: It could be, yes. There is a clear understanding that not all of these aspirations will be achieved only with international funding through national governments. In the case of the Green Climate Fund, that is international funding that then flows through national governments primarily. So you will have to make the case both at the international level and at the national level that this meets the highest priorities and fits their thinking about, for instance, their national adaptation plans.
[00:25:24:05] But there is a strong concern that if we just rely on the-- on the public money and the international flows-- we're not going to get there. So partly it's also about mobilizing different types of money together. And that's one reason why there is interest to bring in the insurance industry. It might unlock different type of capital and combine different types of capital in ways that get us further than with the public money alone. That said, there's also a strong recognition that we will need to invest in public goods that facilitate adaptation that includes systems that include information that includes better understanding of risk-- and facilitating the incorporation of that information into decision making-- and also that there is a moral obligation to support the most vulnerable countries also dealing with the physical impacts.
[00:26:08:14] And one way the international donor community is also looking at this is that setting up smart systems that combine social protection insurance and other development investments actually get them the best bang for their buck-- also supporting the most vulnerable countries in dealing with these rising risks. So that is certainly a public investment case that can be taken to the Green Climate Fund, but also to a wide variety of other donors. And the development banks, for instance, are also really interested in this.
[00:26:33:21] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, so instead of investing in fossil fuel infrastructure projects, this might be a more worthy investment.
[00:26:39:28] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Absolutely.
[00:26:41:09] CURT NEWTON: I've always wondered-- a functioning insurance market relies on having predictable risk. And the nature of what we're facing with climate change is really upsetting that predictability. How do you think the insurance industry is dealing with that?
[00:26:56:13] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Well, they're concerned. They're much more concerned and outspoken than you would expect given that they're traditionally a very conservative and careful business. So the fact that they're seeing this risk is also a good indicator that we're in for some trouble in the world. In terms of your question implying that it would be difficult to ensure risks that are affected by climate change, on the one hand, that's correct. But the climate risks are shifting over the course of decades.
[00:27:23:24] We're getting more surprises, yes. But those surprises are spread out relatively well. What they will in the end simply do is adjust their premiums due to rising risk. Now in some cases, it might be that at some point those premiums become unaffordable. That's of course especially problematic in places where people can already hardly afford the current premiums. So that is a market mechanism that puts the insurance proposition at risk maybe.
[00:27:46:22] Overall for the insurance industry, it's primarily about ensuring that they more or less understand what's coming. And they'll start pricing the higher uncertainty into their premiums at some point. Their primary interest is, I think, to on the one hand, provide these services. And they'd like to see their market expand. So if more people can benefit from their services, all the better.
[00:28:06:18] But at the same time, ensure that we advance the understanding so that they can understand the risks they face themselves-- but also that we can keep the level of risk manageable. So that in the end, we also really manage the physical risk, for instance, to the asset base, and not only create a society that is in need of more and more insurance payouts. They would like to see a stable evolution of risk and ideally a reduction of risk as well, where they provide the insurance products for the impacts that we cannot avoid. But we also properly manage the rising risk for the risks we can avoid.
[00:28:40:06] CURT NEWTON: I should mention along the Climate CoLab contests, we've emphasized this February 11 date that the proposals are due. But it's actually-- the process goes on for a number of months beyond that and is open to the public. So if you're not planning to put in a proposal, or you're learning about this a little too late, you can still review all the proposals. You can add comments and suggestions to those proposals. And you can add your votes to the proposals as well.
[00:29:06:28] And one of the contest winner categories is popular vote. And so it's well worth, if you haven't checked out Climate Colab, to do so and follow these contests if they're of interest to you. It's really a fascinating process.
[00:29:20:18] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, it's amazing. And I've seen cases where people have provided comments that really shaped a proposal going forward, and sometimes even partnered with the owner of that proposal.
[00:29:30:19] CURT NEWTON: So we like to close our podcast episodes with asking kind of a fun open-ended question. Maarten, if you had a magic wand that you could just wave at some aspect of the climate problem, what would it be?
[00:29:44:16] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Ha, yeah. Well, the grand statement would be avoid the unmanageable, manage the unavoidable. But what exactly that would be is a difficult question. I think my primary concern is really with the most vulnerable. And in the end, that party comes down to equity as well. Especially in the west we're leading, even now day to day, extremely luxurious lifestyles. And to some extent, those lifestyles have consequences around the world. And the most vulnerable people are getting hit hardest.
[00:30:13:05] We owe it to them to avoid those risks from getting out of hand further. But especially we owe it to them to already help them manage what's coming their way today. And I think the Paris Agreement in principle has that balance built in. I'm currently worried that I see lots of energy going just to the [? arctic ?] transition, which is critical, which we really need. But if we can have a balanced approach where an equal amount of attention, like in this great Climate Colab contest, is going to actually managing the risk facing those most vulnerable, then I think we're in for a better world.
[00:30:44:18] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, I hope we don't need too many more disaster ridden years like 2017 for people to wake up to that need.
[00:30:51:03] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Yeah, I sure hope so as well. It's been busy for us, too.
[00:30:53:16] CURT NEWTON: All right, Maarten. Well it's been a pleasure speaking with you. And we look forward to seeing the results of this contest and the great work that you're doing with the UN group and your Red Cross Red Crescent climate initiative. Thanks for being with us.
[00:31:07:16] MAARTEN VAN AALST: Great, thanks for having me.
[00:31:09:29] CURT NEWTON: So listeners, we hope that you will check out the Climate Colab contests. We'll put links up on our website. But if you want to just go straight there from listening, you'll find the contests on the front page at climatecolab-- that's C-O-L-A-B-- .org. And the name of the contest is Absorbing Climate Risk. Again, that's open for new proposals through February 11. But there will be several months where it's open for your comments, your up votes. And please check it out and get involved.
[00:31:41:26] We also love to hear from you here at ClimateX on any topics that are on your mind. You can reach out to us via email at ClimateX@MIT.edu, or through our Facebook and Twitter channels. And thank you for listening, bye.
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