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Climate change – a challenge for humanitarian assistance

17.06.2014 - Article

The consequences of climate change are causing huge challenges for humanitarian assistance. The 34th Forum on Global Issues that took place at the Federal Foreign Office on 17 June brought together climate experts and aid organisations to jointly develop strategies for effective risk management.

Panel discussion on future areas of focus for humanitarian assistance
Panel discussion on future areas of focus for humanitarian assistance© AA

The consequences of climate change are causing huge challenges for humanitarian assistance. The 34th Forum on Global Issues that took place at the Federal Foreign Office on 17 June brought together climate experts and aid organisations to jointly develop strategies for effective risk management.

It is no coincidence that worldwide humanitarian needs have risen dramatically in recent years, and one of the reasons for this are the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events such as droughts, heavy rainfall and tropical cyclones are increasingly resulting in humanitarian emergencies. The gradual loss of areas for cultivation and pasture due to changes in the rain periods or more frequent periods of drought is causing shortages in food supplies, which in turn increases the risk of conflict and leads to growing numbers of refugees.

All of these aspects are arguments in favour of climate experts engaging more closely with actors in the area of humanitarian assistance. This is why the 34th Forum on Global Issues that took place on 17 June at the Federal Foreign Office was devoted to the topic of “Climate change – a challenge for humanitarian assistance”. Numerous guests from politics, business and civil society – including from the German Red Cross, the World Food Programme, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Welthungerhilfe – gathered in various panels to discuss how scientific climate forecasts can be taken into account in risk analyses and what the resulting areas of focus should be for humanitarian assistance.

Paradigm shift in humanitarian assistance

The head of the Directorate-General for the United Nations and Global Issues at the Federal Foreign Office, Patricia Flor, mentioned at the very start of the event that humanitarian assistance is currently undergoing a paradigm shift: from reactive crisis management to active risk management. “Preparedness” is more sustainable in the long term than assistance in a disaster, she noted, but it is only possible with experts’ forecasts.

Age of consequences

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, began his keynote speech with a message from the World Meteorological Organization: it had warned two weeks previously that the concentration of carbon dioxide that is damaging to the climate had reached a new high in the atmosphere above the northern hemisphere. Strässer added: Climate change is no longer a problem of the future – it is already happening. We have thus already entered into the age of consequences. It is the task of humanitarian assistance to adjust to these new and different challenges, to prepare for the consequences and to react to them in a sensible and efficient manner.

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer
The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer© AA

Strässer pointed out that despite the criticism, the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen did produce a concrete result: the industrial nations had agreed to support developing nations in combating climate change. By 2020, the industrial nations want to provide 100 billion US dollars for this purpose. This large sum is necessary, noted Strässer, as the need for humanitarian assistance had multiplied in the past ten years. Climate change plays an important role in this respect. According to Strässer, extreme weather events are already responsible for over 75 per cent of natural disasters – primarily in developing countries that are already vulnerable.

Network of scientists and aid organisations

The Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid concluded his speech by announcing that the Federal Foreign Office wanted to prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 by supporting national and international partners in their efforts to place the humanitarian challenges of climate change once again more firmly on the political agenda. With this in mind, Strässer asked the panellists to come up with tangible measures for humanitarian-oriented adaptation to climate change. He noted that their contribution was extremely important for the further development of climate diplomacy and the network of scientists and humanitarian aid organisations.

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