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Urgent climate action, a shared responsibility

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As planet Earth heats up, floods, storms, droughts, wildfires and other disasters will become more frequent and severe. It is key to prepare for the increase of expected shocks, and to minimise the exposure and vulnerability of people to such hazards. Urgent action is needed in addition to reducing carbon emissions, and this requires a three-pronged approach: increased funding, a stronger focus on climate change adaptation, and enhanced collaboration among stakeholders from different sectors.

“While the world’s attention has been turned to COVID-19, the climate crisis continues to unfold. And the scale of the suffering it causes will only get worse.” That is how Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), referred to this humanitarian emergency at the recent Climate:Red Summit, underlining the commitment of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to “massively scale up” climate interventions.

Held on 9 and 10 September, Climate:Red was the first-ever fully virtual and global summit on this topic. It was organised by IFRC in collaboration with the Solferino Academy, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre and different National Red Cross Societies, running for 30 consecutive hours, with 200 online sessions including workshops, games and debates. The event brought together over 10,000 people from 195 countries: from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to government ministers, high-level representatives from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO), the United Nations, other aid organisations, business or academia, and scientists, youth champions, activists and indigenous leaders.

Main conclusion? Tackling the climate crisis is urgent – and a shared responsibility.

Last year already, the  IFRC report on 'The cost of doing nothing' identified that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance due to the climate crisis could double by 2050. Scaling up climate-smart disaster risk reduction early action and preparedness is no longer an option, but an essential move to prevent a catastrophe. Likewise, relevant actors must strive to address the health impacts and displacement triggered by climate change, and support more resilient livelihoods and services, sustainable water resource management. To strengthen actions, these have been included in the Red Cross and Red Crescent ambitions adopted in 2020 to deal with the climate crisis.

The European Union (EU) and its Member States, signatories to the Paris Agreement, have been playing a major role in this domain, through different policies and cooperation with relevant actors. Europe aims to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent, and at the end of 2019 a European Green Deal was reached, with measures including cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, investments in research and innovation, a new Adaptation Strategy or the adoption of a European Climate Law.

In the humanitarian sphere, factoring in climate change in field operations is essential, including logistics and the supply chain. At the Climate:Red Summit, DG ECHO Deputy Director-General Michael Köhler stated that partners will be increasingly expected to look at the life cycle of products and show they undertake measures to reduce emissions, with incentives being created to encourage that approach. He also shared how, to meet EU commitments, they are studying new initiatives to be developed as part of their multi-sectoral support to projects, and cited funding for sustainable energy solutions in refugee camps as an example. The DG ECHO Director for Disaster Preparedness and Prevention, Ilkka Salmi, reminded that the European Consensus on Humanitarian highlights environmental considerations in the ‘do no harm principle’, and indicated that they are now working on a comprehensive, phased strategy to reducing environmental footprint and impacts together with partners.

Yet, more needs to be done:

On the one hand, the EU should address further the global challenges of climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and environmental degradation through its bilateral and multilateral relations, to emphasise the importance of prioritising planning and investing in this area. Strengthening international and regional cooperation on climate (and disaster) resilience, including attention to cross-border risks, is also essential. On the other hand, EU institutions and Member States must adopt a coherent and integrated approach that significantly scale up their actions and interventions to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable populations facing the impacts of climate change. For that purpose, the EU should ensure that funding for climate-related objectives including anticipatory approaches will be accessible to civil society organisations and international entities supporting them.

Community engagement and accountability with a people-centred approach should also be at the core of EU’s adaptation work, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of local capacities. Governments and donors cannot afford to miss the opportunity of supporting more climate change adaptation – in the EU and beyond – together with aid organisations and the civil society.

Across the globe, National Red Cross Societies have been working on that for years. In Sudan, for example, the German Red Cross and the Sudanese Red Crescent are running a two-year project to offset the negative impacts of climate change on small farmers in Gedaref, seeking to boost agricultural production while supporting those affected by less rainfall. In Haiti, the Netherlands and Haitian Red Cross are collaborating with other partners in a programme to restore the country’s reputation as the Green Pearl of the Caribbean, helping to create many smaller green pearls: safe and thriving communities living in a healthy balance between human needs, natural resources and economic development. Further south, in Honduras, the Italian and Honduran Red Cross are implementing a comprehensive programme on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Valley of Sula. This includes reforesting activities and educational activities on sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship, in order to diversify livelihoods from the traditional coffee cultivation to pig breeding, fish farming, horticultural and honey production, among others.

“Let us think big and we must act bold,” stated the IFRC Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain, following the Climate:Red Summit, with concrete suggestions to move forward: “Can we, for example, commit to plant and grow 1 billion trees in the next 5 years? [...] Can we commit to change our personal behaviours and consumption practices to make a real change? Can we commit to make our organisational actions environmentally friendly? Can we wholeheartedly commit to play our part to make the earth worthy for living for our children and their children? This must be our duty.”


We are all the #FacesOfClimateChange. Join the campaign: 

  • Red Cross EU Office information on climate change as a priority for the EU in this link
  • Red Cross EU Office article on ‘Shifting to a greener response’ in this link
  • IFRC report ‘The Cost of Doing Nothing’ in this link
  • IFRC press release on the Climate:Red Summit in this link
  • IFRC policy brief on ‘Enhancing Laws and Regulations to Protect Children in Disasters: We need to do better’ in this link

For media inquiries, please contact Ainhoa Larrea on: ainhoa.larrea@redcross.eu or +32 2 235 09 22