Climate action today or unimaginable suffering tomorrow
When the climate changes, it affects nature, animals, and humans. With this report we present the broad humanitarian consequences of global warming, with the aim to inform humanitarian actors across different fields. It is the first of its kind and it highlights the short-term impacts of climate change that will be the most relevant within a 10-year timeframe. The findings correlate perfectly with what Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers experience all over the world: We now live in a world where the impacts of manmade climate change are hitting harder, more often and intensely.
The evidence put together is as overwhelming as it is daunting. To name a few of the consequences presented in the following pages: Climate change has severe negative impact on crops, water quality and livelihoods and it can aggravate existing larger-scale conflicts. Climate change will harm those who are already subject to poverty, conflict, and violence the most. Overall, Africa and Asia are expected to be the most vulnerable regions in terms of humanitarian consequences of climate change.
More than 40 percent of the countries experiencing a food crisis in 2017 faced the double burden of climatic shocks and conflict. Conflicts harm the structures and systems that are necessary to facilitate adaptation to climate change. The report does not find evidence of climate change being an important cause of large-scale armed conflict but confirms that it may aggravate and prolong existing conflicts.
In 2019, the conflict in Syria entered its ninth year, but protracted conflicts are not a new phenomenon. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has worked to protect and assist those affected by armed conflicts in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, and in South Sudan for almost 40 years. Contexts which are not unique in the way that access to the affected populations is challenging and security concerns make it difficult for development actors to be present and provide needed services. What is new is the knowledge documented in this report that climate change will make the direct and indirect humanitarian consequences of armed conflict even worse. And, furthermore: That climate change will negatively impact possibilities to end conflicts.
The changing climate and the scale of the consequences is a manmade problem and can be solved by man, but only if we are able and willing to act before it is too late. The longer we fail to act, the greater the challenge will become. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stressed that it requires rapid and far-reaching transitions the next decade in land, energy, industry, buildings and cities to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Put differently, the IPCC has warned that the world has until 2030 to change its course to prevent climate collapse.
Knowledge is the first step to action. All over the world, the impact of climate change is becoming ever more evident. But so is the awareness among people, organisations, institutions and governments. Youth all over the world have joined forces and engaged in regular climate strikes, demanding that political leaders take actions that should have been taken years ago.
As the world’s largest humanitarian movement, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement needs to respond too, both by adjusting the humanitarian assistance to match the needs, limiting our own climate footprint and by contributing to a change in global climate policy. The results in this report alone leave no doubt about the scale of commitment that is now required: States and civil society must increase their efforts in disaster risk reduction. Also, donors must ensure increased and predictable funding and recognise the need to provide both humanitarian and development assistance to people who struggle to survive in protracted conflicts. And finally, we must all take responsibility to eliminate the causes of climate change if we are to have any chance of meeting current and future humanitarian needs. If we fail, the consequences will be greater human suffering and larger humanitarian needs than we can ever hope to meet, no matter the responses.
This report gives a clear overview of the challenges that lie ahead. The need for action is imminent:
• Organisations and donors must prioritise preventive measures to save lives. The consequences of climate change will increase, and they pose a risk for events of immeasurable proportions that the world does not have the capacity to respond to.
• Climate change aggravates and prolongs the humanitarian consequences of armed conflict. The possibility for traditional development organisations to have long term access to the affected populations becomes limited and humanitarian organisations and donors must therefore ensure the provision of development aid in addition to emergency assistance.
• The causes of climate change must be eliminated. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement must, like other organisations and institutions, respond to the clear message from the IPCC and step up its efforts to both reduce its own climate footprint and influence policy- and decision makers around the world.
Bernt G. Apeland
Norwegian Red Cross Secretary General