“Climate change – a challenge for humanitarian assistance”. Lead in presentation by Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, at the 34th Forum on Global Issues at the Federal Foreign Office

17.06.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

I. Introduction

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office for this 34th Forum on Global Issues! As Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, I would like to say how very pleased I am that we are focusing today on the very important subject of “climate change and humanitarian assistance”. I would also like to convey Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s greetings to you all.

I have been concerned with humanitarian assistance for many years, not least as a member of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of the Bundestag. So when I took up this new position, I was keen to stress that I wanted to bring humanitarian assistance more into the spotlight.

Just a couple of weeks ago the World Meteorological Organization announced that concentrations of harmful carbon dioxide had reached a new high throughout the northern hemisphere. And it is highly likely that global CO2 concentrations will already overtake this level next year.

This means that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by almost 50 percent since the onset of industrialisation.

At the very latest since the publication of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, we have known that climate change is no longer merely a problem for the future. No, it is already taking place. And so our age is already having to face up to the consequences.

And humanitarian assistance has to adapt to the shifting challenges, to prepare to tackle these consequences and to respond sensibly and effectively to them.

II. Background

Almost exactly seven years ago to the day, in June 2007, some of you attended another Forum on Global Issues. On that occasion the subject was “Climate Change as a Security Risk” and the main focus of discussion was global warming and the challenges it posed for foreign and security policy. But mention was also made of the challenges for humanitarian assistance, which were discernible even then.

Much has changed, and indeed developed, since 2007. Undoubtedly, progress in Germany, for instance on the expansion of renewables, has been impressive. And, thanks not least to the 2007 Forum on Global Issues, German and European foreign policy has paid more attention to the subject of climate change and security.

At the same time, though, I have to say that despite intensive efforts at many different levels, not all our hopes of the negotiating process on international climate protection have been fulfilled.

And it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the topic no longer gets the same amount of public attention as it did at the time of our last Forum.

The Federal Foreign Office is aware that the pressing need to resolve current crises must not be allowed to push onto the back burner important initiatives to tackle climate change and its impact. We therefore remain actively committed in a number of bodies to addressing the repercussions of climate change. For example, when Germany held the presidency of the UN Security Council in 2011, it took up the matter of climate change, a move which met with a positive echo from many developing countries. In addition, EU Foreign Ministers have addressed the subject several times in recent years. And the Federal Chancellor has already announced that climate change will be high on the agenda of the G7 Summit in Germany next year. For one thing is clear: ignoring the problem won’t make the challenges of climate change go away. On the contrary, it will make them even greater.

Notwithstanding all the criticism of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, one area where it did succeed was in identifying key aspects of humanitarian assistance as important elements of climate adaptation. Moreover, one concrete result of Copenhagen was that the industrial countries agreed to help the developing countries to tackle climate change, and to provide 100 billion US dollars for that purpose up till 2020. This money is to be balanced between climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Current and future risks of climate change

The amount of money needed for humanitarian aid has risen continuously over the past few years. Similarly, the number of people requiring international humanitarian assistance has also increased. Ten years ago, the annual United Nations budget for emergency humanitarian needs totalled 3.4 billion US dollars; just five years later, this figure had almost tripled, reaching 10 billion US dollars. In 2014 we have again needed much more than last year: more than 15 billion US dollars in the first six months alone!

One reason for this huge increase is the visible impact of climate change, particularly in the form of extreme weather events. Of course climate change is not the only cause of the increase. Population growth, unplanned urbanisation, overexploitation of natural resources and extreme poverty in developing countries considerably increase the susceptibility of these countries to disasters. But climate change threatens to exacerbate even further exactly these indicators of susceptibility.

So climate change is not just about CO2 concentration levels or how many degrees the average global temperature will increase by 2100, or how many centimetres sea levels will rise by. No, it is about the very concrete question of the current and future risks to people who are already in great danger and who are least able to protect themselves from the repercussions of climate change.

In that respect, climate change and especially its inherent dangers have become global challenges for humanitarian assistance.

This raises the question of which actual risks humanitarian assistance needs to respond to. In the first panel this morning we already discussed what information about climate change we have available and what trends and scenarios we ought to expect. A few risks became clear in this context: in its 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that there has already been a change to the extent and frequency of extreme weather events in certain regions, e.g. Asia, as a result of climate change. No one doubts that continuing climate change in the years and decades ahead will substantially increase the number of disasters. This is true of large-scale disasters as well as the small to medium-scale disasters that all too often escape public attention.

But let’s stay with the risks we who are concerned with humanitarian assistance have to face up to. The risks were described in a very comprehensive and topical way in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report at the beginning of 2014, which makes the relevance of climate change for humanitarian assistance abundantly clear.

1) The risk of critical infrastructure collapsing as a result of the increase in extreme weather events is growing all around the world.

2) In flat coastal regions and less developed island states there is the danger of increased deaths and injuries and the loss of livelihoods as a result of storm damage and flooding, and in the long term also rising sea levels.

3) In densely populated and urban regions there is the danger that more serious diseases will break out following floods. At the same time, elderly people in particular are exposed to an increased danger of extreme heatwaves in urban areas.

4) Poor population groups in developing countries are at particular risk of increasing food insecurity owing to droughts, flooding and changing rainy seasons. Basically, low-income rural populations in developing countries risk losing their livelihoods if access to water is further impaired, thus also cutting agricultural productivity.

5) The increase in extreme weather events associated with climate change may in the course of the rest of the 21st century also increase the number of people forced to leave their homes. This would mean in particular higher numbers of internally displaced persons. However, the competition for scarcer resources, such as agricultural land or water, may lead not only to increased refugee flows, but may also heighten the risk of violent conflict – a subject we discussed at the Forum on Global Issues in 2007.

One real example which revealed the entire spectrum of these challenges in quite a terrifying way was Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines last November with wind speeds in excess of 300 km/h. Typhoon Haiyan hit a region where farmers and fishermen had been suffering for years from the effects of climate change. It claimed many lives and destroyed the people’s livelihood on a massive scale. As a result of climate change, that kind of tropical storm will in future very probably become even more intense in your region as well.

This is only one example of the additional dangers climate change poses for the people of developing countries. These dangers vividly reflect numerous ever more frequent emergencies across the world in recent years which required a humanitarian response. Because extreme weather events are already responsible for over 75 percent of natural disasters in the world, especially in less developed countries.

In Asia – to stick with our example – it is not only the Philippines that are threatened by the effects of climate change. In coastal areas and delta regions in particular, there is a danger that extreme rainfall and more intense tropical storms will cause even more damage to infrastructure. In other countries increasing heatwaves and periods of drought mean a greater risk of heat-induced deaths and drinking water shortages.

In Africa the scarcity of water is exacerbating so called hot, dry stress in several countries on the continent. The poorer harvests and ensuing food security problems we are already seeing may be here to stay. Temperature and rainfall pattern changes are altering the incidence and spread of vector-borne and water-borne diseases.

In South America our particular worry is the availability of drinking water in regions dependent on meltwater from Andean glaciers – a problem also facing South Asia with the meltwater from the Himalayas. Hundreds of millions of people are affected by the lack of availability of water. But climate change is intensifying these regional risks and exacerbating existing problems in a context that is frequently already unstable.

Paradoxically, in many regions global warming is causing not only an increasing risk of more frequent heatwaves but also an increasing risk of extreme rainfall and floods. So extremes are becoming both more extreme and more unpredictable.

The areas at particular risk from these extremes are mainly countries and regions where international humanitarian assistance has already been on the ground for decades. As a consequence, the humanitarian system is called upon in future to implement climate change adaptation measures that are more focused on humanitarian aspects.

IV. Previous activities by the Federal Foreign Office to respond to humanitarian challenges

Germany is a trailblazer in climate protection, but also in how to adapt correctly to the humanitarian repercussions of climate change. From the outset we welcomed the fact that UN organisations and International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were quick to highlight the humanitarian consequences of climate change and the need for climate adaptation measures.

Over the past few years the Federal Foreign Office has made major moves in shaping a humanitarian approach to climate adaptation and especially in improving the responsiveness of humanitarian aid.

We very deliberately strengthened UNHCR’s mandate for the protection of the internally displaced, and in 2011 the Federal Foreign Office launched its Preparedness Initiative, triggering a paradigm change in humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian disaster risk reduction – and in particular improved preparedness for future disasters – have been integrated into our humanitarian assistance focuses and approaches. In the context of this paradigm change, the Federal Foreign Office is now concentrating above all on preventive measures and damage control strategies. These include the development of early warning systems, but also capacity building for

- local,
- national and
- regional
disaster risk management actors.

Since 2012 the Federal Foreign Office has been emphasising this paradigm change and also the importance of “climate-sensitive” humanitarian assistance as a key multidisciplinary topic in its Strategy for Humanitarian Aid. Together with our partners we want to be able to do more than just respond to crises and disasters with immediate relief and emergency aid. As the risks increase, we want to work together with our partners to look ahead and plan and to integrate risk reduction measures into all the areas in which our humanitarian assistance is active. If we look at these areas today, it’s clear that our understanding of humanitarian assistance has become a bit broader, moving from crisis management towards risk management, and one reason for that is climate change and the dangers it involves.

In this context we work closely with the UN organisations, non governmental organisations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which enables us to make use of our partners’ huge competence in dealing with the risks of climate change.

Since last year, the Federal Foreign Office has also been involved in the Steering Group of the newly founded Nansen Initiative. The Nansen Initiative aims to launch a regional debate on climate change and displacement and to anchor it prominently in all relevant global and regional forums. From the start, we welcomed the Nansen Initiative and its consultations on cross border climate induced displacement, and we are committed to broadening the initiative so that it becomes much more than just a debate on legal issues.

And, finally, as a member of the relevant working group, I myself sought to ensure that the coalition agreement of November 2013 mentioned climate change adaptation as a focal point of humanitarian aid, thereby underscoring the Federal Foreign Office’s initiative.

V. Concrete solutions and future areas of activity for humanitarian assistance

However, the Federal Foreign Office realises that international humanitarian aid measures to date, including Germany’s share in the response to the humanitarian challenges posed by climate change, are not yet enough. That’s why we have invited you to this Forum on Global Issues.

I’m very grateful to the participants in this morning’s first panel for their contributions and for the ensuing discussion. Having had these initial discussions over the course of the morning, I think we got a really helpful impression of what information is already available to us today about the climate and extreme weather events. Our talks also clearly pointed up what we can and must do to use this information within the humanitarian system to anticipate developments and thus ensure better risk reduction.

We must intensively continue our paradigm shift in humanitarian assistance and further strengthen the actors’ preparedness for response capacities. The global humanitarian system needs to refocus: from classical disaster management to risk management. To that end, we need to carry on steadily increasing the importance of improved responsiveness within the overall humanitarian system and to ensure the integration of a climate sensitive disaster prevention strategy, in immediate relief, emergency aid and transitional aid.

We need an improved dialogue between humanitarian actors and the various scientific experts working in climate change and extreme weather forecasting. Humanitarian donors like the Federal Foreign Office and our partners have to be able to understand the available information on climate and extreme weather risks and to integrate it into their strategic planning and project measures.

That’s why we will help our partners in the UN system, the non governmental organisations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to introduce climate sensitive project planning and implementation. At the same time, we have to create a framework to enable spontaneous risk reduction measures to be implemented in a coordinated and timely way.

VI. Expectations of the remainder of the Forum on Global Issues and next steps

Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not intended to be a final summary of the Forum; after all, we have another important panel still to go. Following on from our previous discussions, this second panel will be looking at concrete ways to manage the impact of climate change and at future priorities for humanitarian assistance.

So I would like to ask the panellists, and the other guests, to suggest very tangible ways to ensure a humanitarian approach to climate change adaptation.

So I’m expecting the second panel to come up with concrete answers to the following:

How can the Federal Foreign Office, in close cooperation with its partners, further strengthen its role, pointing out the humanitarian consequences of climate change and working for the good of particularly endangered population groups in high risk countries?

How can we integrate the humanitarian dimension of climate change and related adaptation measures even better at the international level?

How can the various partners in German humanitarian assistance ensure that they attach the appropriate value to the subject of climate change?

We want to work together with you to push further on with this paradigm shift in our humanitarian assistance, particularly with reference to climate issues. So together we have to think what measures need to be focused on more. We need to look for ways to ensure a better exchange of knowledge so that the existing experience of useful adaptation measures in the context of humanitarian assistance can be even better dovetailed.

And how can we help ensure that the approaches to dealing with climate change and displacement are as multidimensional as possible, instead of just concentrating on the definition of climate refugees?

Let me assure you that the results of this Forum are extremely important to the Federal Foreign Office. We very deliberately invited actors from diverse fields in policymaking, civil society, business and the scientific world to participate in this Forum.

German humanitarian assistance will in this sense continue to build bridges in future. We will resolutely work to ensure that climate change and humanitarian-oriented adaptation measures feed in to the various international processes even more obviously. We will therefore further expand our multilateral and bilateral diplomacy in order to once again increase public and political awareness of the humanitarian impact. In doing so, we will focus first and foremost on those population groups in particular danger from climate change.

Within the UN system, and looking forward to the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, we will enter into an enhanced dialogue with our national and international humanitarian assistance partners. We will also support the nation states in moving the humanitarian challenges of climate change higher up their domestic agenda again.

Your discussions here today will help us to shape these strategic and conceptual developments and once again make people at national and international level aware of the importance of humanitarian-oriented climate change adaptation.

VII. Conclusion

I would like to thank all our guests and panellists once again for coming and for making such valuable contributions.

True, this Forum on Global Issues will not change the fact that we are already confronted by the humanitarian consequences of climate change. But I very much hope that it will, firstly, help make sure that humanitarian assistance is as well prepared as possible for these consequences and, secondly, ensure that humanitarian assistance can help reduce or even remove the most dangerous risks to the most at risk people in the world.

Thank you very much.

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