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NEWS: Climate:Red Summit rallies humanitarian leaders to accelerate climate action

The Climate:Red Summit galvanised thousands of humanitarian and development professionals from the Red Cross Red Crescent movement to think about how they could accelerate climate action. Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports from a special session about linking global policy to local action.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) convened the Climate:Red Summit on 9-10 September 2020 to focus attention on the impacts of climate change and to galvanise momentum to tackle the climate crisis.

The IFRC is a massive international humanitarian network: numbering some 100 million members, volunteers and supporters in 192 National Societies. More than 4,000 Red Cross members and their partners joined the Climate:Red Summit.

The coronavirus pandemic has created new demands for the IFRC’s services and also complex challenges for its operations. However, in spite of the coronavirus challenge, the IFRC’s Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain, is clear that climate change, not COVID-19, creates the most daunting test for the Red Cross Red Crescent movement this century.

“Climate is the greatest emergency,” said Mr Chapagain at the Summit. “The crisis is not inevitable if we all come together and put all our collective efforts at the local level on people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Global and grassroots actors engage on a common agenda

A major theme of the Climate:Red Summit was how National Societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, working deep in communities, can partner with other organisations to increase their impact and also drive global ambitions to adapt and build resilience to climate change. “Because the climate crisis is so immense, no one organisation can tackle it,” said Mr Chapagain. “Organisations need to come together. As IFRC, we will play our part toward the global agenda.”

An entire session was dedicated to exploring two key questions:

  • How can global humanitarian and development aid, in a changing climate, be more responsive to local needs?
  • How can local actors strengthen their resilience building efforts and communicate their needs for external support most effectively?

Making global efforts more responsive
Kitty van der Heijden, Director General for International Cooperation, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that international institutions currently have a vast deficit in their ability to reach local communities and this is an area for urgent attention: “When it comes to climate, 10% of the global climate finance reaches local communities – but that’s where we make or break livelihoods,” Ms van der Heijden asserted.

“In the humanitarian sphere, under the Grand Bargain [an agreement among some of the largest donors and humanitarian organisations], we have said at least 25% of money must go directly to local communities. It makes us accountable and we can measure it and we can manage it.”

Despite its tragedies, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a small ‘blessing in disguise’, Ms van der Heijden said, insofar as coronavirus lockdowns have forced international humanitarian and development conferences and meetings online. In so doing, they have created new digital spaces where developing country actors can have a greater say in the deliberations and decision-making processes that affect them – assuming they have internet connections to reach these forums.

COVID-19 restrictions have also prevented travel by international partners – meaning that they rely even more heavily on local partners for on-the-ground action.

“In a virtual format, we are able to draw in voices from local communities in a way we haven’t done before and give them….a seat at the table,” Ms van der Heijden remarked.

The trend for community organisers’ participation was evident in the Climate:Red Summit itself; but it is also part of something bigger. For example, in early November, the Youth at Heart Virtual Forum will open digital doors to young people from Africa and the Middle East to voice their aspirations and priorities for development. It aims to place young people at the heart of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ work and inspire others to do the same.

Strengthening resilience efforts by local actors
Several speakers from grassroots organisations pinpointed data-gathering and data-sharing as being instrumental in local responses to climate impacts. These efforts also help build the foundation for stronger partnerships between local and external actors.

Sheela Patel, Global Commission on Adaptation Commissioner, cast the spotlight on informal settlements in large cities of developing countries. Some of the world’s most impoverished people live in these urban slums, and they are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and other external shocks such as COVID-19 and its economic fallout.

These populations are virtually invisible to governments, Ms Patel said: “The level of people living in informality is barely acknowledged and they are not there when vulnerability mapping and assessment is done.” Numbers of urban slum residents may be expected to swell as the climate crisis increasingly affects rural areas. For instance, in the Brahmaputra-Ganges-Meghna delta of Bangladesh, large swathes of agricultural land and aquifers now suffer saltwater intrusion from rising seas. Increasing numbers of rural migrants will join the ranks of the invisible urban poor, who already suffer serious deficits in access to water, sanitation, transport and other forms of development, which, if fulfilled, would offer them some resilience.

In this landscape of demographic change and growing climate risk, networks of groups representing the urban poor are offering solutions, Ms Patel said. They are self-organising and collecting data on who lives in informal settlements and what their needs are, for external support. Such organising efforts are ‘not easy’ in the face of everyday struggles to survive, but it is possible, she said, “to help [the urban poor] to collect databases, the evidence, to be able to engage in dialogue with politicians such as the mayor, the state legislations, the national governments, [who] all need to acknowledge urban poverty.”

Rose Molokoane, National Coordinator of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) struck a similar note. Communities can self-organise to partner more effectively with national governments and external actors to meet communities’ needs, she said. Part of FEDUP’s mission is to put an end to the era of disaster response when a big truck would arrive in a community, in the aftermath of a disaster, deposit a big pile of relief sacks, then go away again.

It takes many years to transform partner agencies’ understanding of and response to community needs, and to help communities to define and articulate their needs, Ms Molokoane said. It starts with involving communities to collect information on their own vulnerabilities: on homelessness, landlessness and poverty, for example. FEDUP members use this information as a basis to engage with local and national governments, Ms Molokoane said. FEDUP then creates ‘precedent-setting projects’ at pilot scale and work with governments to invest in measures to boost community resilience at greater scale. “We don’t have resources to do projects on a large scale and it is the obligation of our government to meet the needs of the people. The precedent-setting projects can show the governments that if we do it together, we can do it better.”

Linking the local to the global: Leading strategies for connecting people and refining solutions

Speakers also offered insights on how organisations in Kenya and Uganda have successfully linked local learning in to national and global programmes:

In Kenya, the national Red Cross chapter has trialled the concept of ‘forecast-based early action’. This is a model of helping communities avoid the worst losses and damages from extreme weather events. It works by gathering information about which people, places and assets will be affected by which types of event (drought, flood, storm, heatwave, etc) and establishing plans to expedite cash assistance, evacuate people from dangerous areas, take action to protect property, etc. when forecasts show that a hazard is imminent. Indeed, the IFRC is a founding member of the global Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) which aims to make one billion people in developing countries safe from extreme weather events by 2025.

Halima Saado related that the Kenya Red Cross Society has been ‘learning on the job’ how to translate this global ambition into national and local action. The Society has completed a draft forecast-based action system based on mapping the potential impacts of climate hazards, and ensuring that “we understand who is at risk from climate change, so we can prioritise the risk and the impacts and the early actions we need to take,” Ms Saado said. A feasibility study highlighted existing capacities and systems of the government and World Food Programme, on which Kenyan organisations can build together to prevent future disasters from striking.

In Uganda, the Partners for Resilience trained 35 Members of Parliament on climate change issues. They also worked with 53 community-based organisations to define and articulate their “very concrete recommendations on the Climate Change Bill” and nearly half of the recommendations from those groups were accepted in the latest draft – according to Kitty van der Heijden.

It’s time to get granular about action plans and lessons learned

Discussions at the Climate:Red Summit stressed that now is the time to ramp up partnership action on climate-related disaster risk reduction and resilience-building: piloting and experimenting, gathering and analysing data, learning and adapting fast. These processes should both drive ambitious responses at scale and also honour and reinforce the needs for locally-specific and locally-led actions.

Organisations such as the National Societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent are on the frontlines of planning for and responding to climate-related disasters in communities. They welcome global-level commitments to climate adaptation and resilience and particularly the mobilisation of financial resources. However, far more effort is needed for the global and the local to connect in order to reduce climate risks. It’s past the time for mere political statements.

As government and non-government actors pivot toward next January’s Climate Adaptation Summit and the postponed UNFCCC 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in November, there is a great appetite for sharing lessons from designing and implementing specific climate risk reduction and climate adaptation mechanisms, and how to finance and sustain them. At the Climate Adaptation Summit, Sigrid Kaag, Dutch minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation will host an event specifically focused on accelerating adaptation action in Africa and linking local, national and global levels for adaptation.

Image: Mozambique Red Cross in action, courtesy Climate Centre

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