QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE INTEGRATION OF CLIMATE VARIABILITY AND CHANGE INTO THE WORK OF THE RED CROSS/ RED CRESCENT AT COMMUNITY LEVEL - May 2011
There are a lot of questions around climate change, climate change adaptation, and how to incorporate these concepts into RC/RC work, particularly at the community level. The Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary of Terms below are designed to frame these issues and address barriers for a variety of users within the RC/RC (the Federation, PNSs, HNSs, NS Climate Focal Points and Program Officers). Please note that this is a draft and work in progress. If you have comments or your questions are not addressed in the document below, please e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org, (referencing ‘FAQ’).
The first thing to understand before reading further
For the RC/RC, climate change adaptation is not just about preparing for climate change projections that tell us what our world is likely to look in the year 2050 or 2100 if no strong greenhouse gas reduction measures are taken. Climate change is already happening and will further accelerate in the coming decades. The RC/RC is going to be responding to disasters all over the world between now and then. That means that the RC/RC is going to be dealing with extreme weather events that happen on timescales of hours to days, as well as the impact of natural climate variability that occurs on timescales of years-decades, combined with the influence of long-term climate change. Because in many parts of the world, our experience of climate change isn’t likely to be one straight path towards those projections, the best way for us to prepare is to become increasingly skilled at managing climate and weather related risks we currently face, as well as those anticipated by forecasts on short, medium and long timescales. This is climate change adaptation for the RC/RC. Some might call it climate risk management. Others might call it climate-smart, or climate-informed disaster risk reduction. The idea is that we are aware the climate is changing, we use forecast information across timescales to anticipate where and how it might change, and we become increasingly skilled and efficient at managing the weather and climate risks we currently face, so that we have the capacity, early warning systems, and community awareness necessary to mobilize ourselves effectively as we experience changing and increasing weather and climate-related risks over time.
A. GENERAL QUESTIONS
1. What is the difference between climate and weather?
The difference is in the timescale. Weather refers to conditions like rain, temperature and wind over hours to days. Climate refers to those average weather conditions over a much longer period of time (30+ years).
2. Is it possible to attribute a single weather event to climate change?
It is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, since weather fluctuates on short-term timescales and climate change is occurring over a much longer timescale. An increase in the average occurrence of extreme weather events over time however, may be attributed to climate change, especially if other forms of natural climate variability can be ruled out.
3. What is the difference between climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation?
Climate Change Mitigation refers to efforts undertaken to reduce our emissions of heat-trapping, ‘greenhouse’ gasses in the atmosphere, which cause climate change. Greenhouse gasses are for example carbon dioxide (related to the use of fossil fuel) and methane. Climate Change Adaptation refers to efforts undertaken to minimize the impacts of climate change –this is where the RC/RC comes in, with all its expertise and capacity to support the most vulnerable populations in climate-sensitive areas such as disaster management, health, livelihoods, WATSAN, and food security etc.
4. Should activities that have a climate change focus be conducted separately from other RC/RC programs?
No, RC/RC activities that address changing climate risks on all timescales need to be incorporated into existing strategies and programs, and should not be dealt with as new and separate types of programs. For example, if changes in climate make floods more frequent and severe in your area, you wouldn’t start a separate climate change and floods unit, you would increase capacity to manage floods within your existing disaster management unit.
5. Is previous experience in disaster preparedness and/or reduction required to make our work climate-smart?
No, you can start from wherever you are now. However, depending on previous experience, you may need to spend some extra effort identifying current and future risks and ways they could be addressed. Although the RC/RC Climate Centre’s Preparedness for Climate Change Programme (PfCC) has ended, the programme’s resources are still available online and can help guide you through the process of becoming familiar with changing climate risks and local resources to address them. You can contact email@example.com if you like to obtain resources or further assistance.
6. Is it sufficient if our climate change adaptation activities mainly focus on awareness raising and advocacy?
Awareness raising and advocacy are important components of climate change adaptation (CCA) in the RC/RC. However, at the RC/RC CCA needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. A comprehensive package of climate activities by RC/RC societies would entail a combination of awareness raising, knowledge sharing, advocacy and local climate-smart DRR and/or preventive health activities, where climate concerns and climate information are being effectively integrated into a wide range of RC/RC plans and programs.
B. QUESTIONS ON THE USE OF FORECASTS
7. Should CCA activities mainly focus on longer-term climate trends, or also incorporate medium-term forecasts and short-term weather alerts?
Climate change projections are often given for the years 2050, 2080 and 2100. They provide an idea of how warm, wet/dry we currently expect the climate to be by then. However, just because these projections give us an idea of how things are likely to be different in the second half of this century , doesn’t mean our experience of climate change will be a direct and gradual progression towards these projections. There are likely to be surprises along the way and natural climate variability still has an influence. For example, if the long-term projection is for drier conditions, but naturally occurring La Niña events tend to bring your country floods, then you’ll want to make sure you are preparing for the right risk on the right timescale. Furthermore, a common climate change projection is for increased frequency and severity of things like droughts and floods. Droughts and floods occur on shorter-timescales, so a good CCA strategy would be to closely monitor climate and weather forecasts on medium and short-term timescales in order to anticipate extreme events.
What do we mean by long-term, medium-term and short-term forecasts?
Long-term forecasts tell us what is likely over decades and centuries.
Medium-term forecasts tell us what is likely over the coming months or season.
Short-term forecasts, commonly known as weather forecasts or alerts, tell us what to expect in the coming week, days and hours.
Finally, much of RC/RC planning and programs happen on shorter-timescales, so using forecast information closer to the timescale on which you work also makes sense. The ability to manage climate and weather-related risks in the short and medium term is an excellent first step at becoming more resilient to changing climate risks in the future. For more information on monitoring forecasts and taking action across timescales, see our Early Warning, Early Action resources at: http://www.climatecentre.org/site/early-warning-early-action
8. How to understand El Niño and La Niña Events (ENSO)?
El Niño and La Niña events are a natural part of climate variability, taking place approximately every 2-7 years. These events refer to warm (El Niño) and cold (La Niña) phases in the equatorial Pacific. Sometimes, these events can go unnoticed or even have beneficial impacts in many parts of the world. However these events can also be extremely disruptive. It’s hard to imagine, but abnormally warm/cold ocean waters in the Pacific can be part of a mechanism that triggers shifts in rainfall patterns around the globe, particularly in the tropics. As a result, problems can develop when some areas receive too much rainfall and others receive too little. Peak impacts from these events are usually felt during a given location’s rainy season, because that is when a disruption of the rains or too much rainfall can have the greatest impact on society (affecting agriculture, livelihoods, food security, health and safety, etc).
9. How can we anticipate impacts from El Niño and La Niña?
Over time, scientists have observed patterns about how rainfall is typically affected by El Niño/La Niña events around the globe. However no two events are exactly the same. Thus, the best way to anticipate if a particular event is likely to bring too much or too little rainfall to your area is to monitor seasonal forecasts, which take influential factors from the current El Niño/La Niña event as well as other elements in the climate system into account. Seasonal forecasts can be found in IRI’s Federation Map Room at: http://iri.columbia.edu/ifrc/forecast/3munusualprecip There still isn’t a scientific consensus regarding how El Niño and La Niña events will play out on a warmer planet. Some studies suggest these events will become increasingly frequent and severe. Other studies disagree. Some climate models show a tendency towards more El Niño events, Long-term forecasts, tell us what is likely over decades and centuries. Medium-term forecasts, tell us what is likely over the coming months or season. Short-term forecasts, commonly known as weather forecasts or alerts, tell us what to expect in the coming week, days and hours. (Please see table 1 above for more information) while others show a possibility for more La Niña events. For now the best thing to do is to stay apprised as to whether an El Niño or La Niña is developing, and monitor seasonal forecasts for advanced notice on any likely impacts that can be expected.
10a. Is there a website where the most relevant information on climate change for my country can be found?
Yes, we recommend you check the following sources. If you have trouble finding information, don’t hesitate to contact the Climate Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Your National Society’s Preparedness for Climate Change Background Documents (over 65 National Societies have produced one).
2. Regional Climate Summaries written by the Climate Centre and IRI
3. National Communication
4. National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPA)
5. UNDP Climate Change Country Profiles
10b. Is there a website where the most relevant forecast information for my country can be found?
10c. Are there other sources for medium and short-term forecast information?
10d. What if I have questions about a forecast or the climate change projections for my country?
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) has a helpdesk set up to provide the RC/RC with assistance in interpreting climate information relevant to the RC/RC’s work. To seek assistance from this source please e-mail your question to email@example.com.
10e. What to do if good quality climate model projections at locally relevant scales are not available?
Local scale climate projections are often not available or reliable. However local scale climate change impacts can be assessed based on thinking through how large-scale projections could interact with/exacerbate existing local vulnerabilities and climate and weather related risks. Becoming more resilient to the climate and weather risks communities currently face is a viable CCA strategy that has the benefit of protecting communities now and preparing them to manage enhanced levels of risk in the future.
11. Do I need to consider climate change in selecting an appropriate DRR/CCA project site?
The Climate Centre does not advise National Societies to seek long-term climate change scenarios (generated from computer models) as criteria for DRR/CCA site-selection at the community level. We recommend staying focused on the most vulnerable communities and the risks they now face –helping vulnerable communities become more resilient to current risks (and any changes in risk they may be currently experiencing. This approach makes a difference for communities today and also helps them become more resilient to address impacts from climaterelated changes in the future. It’s a combination of getting good at managing current weather and climate risks, in an effort to become more resilient to climate and weather risks in the future. In addition to the criteria referred to in the IFRC VCA Manual (‘How to do a VCA’1) you may also consider:
- What are the existing climate risks?
- Are there any observed changes in weather in a specific community, that makes them more vulnerable than before?
As a general rule, it is important to develop a well-defined selection criteria, apply a participatory and consultative process, and carry out a thorough field assessment. National Society Headquarters need to develop a set of general site selection criteria which are properly communicated and clearly explained to the branches concerned. It is suggested that a technical officer with good knowledge of DRR and climate issues at the headquarters level be involved in the selection and the assessment of the locations.
12. How to integrate climate change understanding into Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment?
Please find a guidance note provided by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre website. Some elements mentioned in this guidance note:
a. Collect information from the national meteorological office and/or Environment Department on climate trends, if available. This information may provide good guidance on what questions to ask communities about (see link above).
b. Consider climate change in VCA tools. Seasonal calendars, historical profiles/calendars, risk maps, transect walks, interviews and focus group discussions are common VCA tools that can be easily adapted to consider changes in climate risks that may take place. Develop a number of guiding questions that could be used to identify and synthesize community’s knowledge and local perceptions about climate risks and their impact.
c. Analyze the information given by a community and cross reference this with secondary information you have gathered.
d. Discuss findings with community and validate if scientific information matches up with community based information, develop an action plan, which identifies possible interventions aimed at effectively addressing these new risks.
e. Use the VCA process as a means to raise local awareness, for advocacy efforts and local action.
C. QUESTIONS ON IMPLEMENTATION
13. What are “no-regret” measures?
No-regret measures are measures that will be of use regardless of how climate change will play out. In many locations, there is high uncertainty about the precise changes that global climate change will cause in local weather. In such a case “no regrets” measures, which focus on strengthening overall resilience and reducing vulnerability, should be considered. These measures may not necessarily be targeted at a specific hazard but help increase resilience to shocks at large, for instance by strengthening community livelihoods and capacities.
14. Can we only work in locations which are confronted with hydro-meteorological (weather related) hazards?
In many locations communities face a multitude of hazards, including geological and man-made hazards. It is important in this regard that the NS is able to deal with all risk generating processes, even though some of these may not be climate related. Building overall resilience of communities through “no-regret” measures (see above) contributes to enhanced protection whatever the hazard may be. It is also important to note that geological or manmade disasters can often be worsened or affected by climate related ones. For instance in post-earthquake Haiti, even the slightest bit of rain was causing severe flooding due to blocked drainage systems, and certainly the rains enhanced vulnerability to disease with so many people homeless/living in tents.
15. Should DRR/CCA activities be mainly focused on structural (hard) or non-structural (soft) interventions?
This is not either/or – you should do whatever is most useful in the local context. The most effective DRR and CCA interventions at the community level often combine “soft” interventions such as sensitization, early warning systems and preparedness training with “hard” small scale risk reduction measures, like building dykes, drainage and/or irrigation systems, storm resistant houses, terracing etc. It is therefore important to recognize that at-risk communities will request structural measures, even low-scale interventions, to complement non-structural measures. Increasingly the RC is called upon to play an advocacy role on behalf of the most vulnerable and intervene with the local authorities to provide durable protection.
16. How to develop effective awareness raising measures on CCA?
For CCA sensitization efforts and trainings to be effective they need to directly involve communities, be made context specific, integrated into other sensitization efforts and continuous. One-off climate workshops and lecture style trainings are often ineffective in getting the desired results. Awareness raising efforts should not focus on climate change as a general issue, but should directly relate to the specific vulnerabilities and realities of the area (for example rather than going into a lot of complexity about greenhouse gases it is much better to base it on people’s understanding of climate already such as floods). It is also important to incorporate traditional or ancestral knowledge on climate issues when developing sensitization material for use at
community level. In illiterate communities oral training that makes use of drawings has proven very effective. Also the use of innovative communication tools, such as participatory video and games, has proven valuable. It is also found that awareness raising at the community level is most effective when external partners are involved and when the creative capacity of Red Cross volunteers (specifically including youth) is applied to designing communication messages, so that these are culturally adapted, appealing and kept short and simple. It is always a good idea to run these messages by the Climate Centre or a local climate expert to ensure messages are scientifically sound, focused on CCA and not overly sensationalized. Communities have their own learning processes, CCA awareness raising activities should understand how to integrate in those processes. Shortly available on www.climatecentre.org: a catalogue containing examples of how National Societies have been communicating climate change over the past few years. Furthermore the Climate Centre is developing a Climate Training Kit, including a Module on ‘how to communicate climate change effectively’.
17. How can we facilitate learning about climate-related issues between communities?
Peer-to-peer and community-to-community learning are often very effective ways to share knowledge and information on climate issues. This can be done through exchange visits or through innovative approaches, such as participatory video. A good example is the video “Farmer-to-farmer learning in a changing climate” (see: http://www.climatecentre.org/site/filmsby-farmers). The use of video should not only be seen as a means to exchange experiences and information, but can also contribute to enhanced commitment and motivation of communities in engaging in climate adaptation activities.
18. How to effectively link community health work with CCA?
This could be realized through a greater engagement of the RC health colleagues or Ministry of Health staff in the program as well as through seeking advice of the RC/RC Climate Centre. Think through the health implications climate change might have on the populations you serve and get the advice of health experts to assess which of these are of highest concern. It’s not always just the most commonly talked about health risks such as vector-borne diseases (like malaria). It is important also necessary to consider broader health risks associated with extreme events, heat waves and impacts on water resources or food security. Please take a look at the factsheet on health and care for more operational guidance.
D. QUESTIONS ON THE RC/RC ROLE
19. What does our international RC/RC Strategy 2020 say about Climate Change?
The commitment to address climate change is included in the new Federation Strategy 2020. Strategy 2020 includes the obligation to contribute to reducing the Movement’s carbon footprint. The focus of this document, however, is mainly on the humanitarian aspects of climate change and striving to reduce vulnerability and to increase adaptive capacity. The Federation is currently investigating what role the RC/RC Movement can play in climate change mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emission). Sometimes the two agendas combine for win-win solutions. For example: a reforestation initiative to prevent landslides will result in new trees that absorb CO2. Our main target remains to prevent the landslide from happening and protect the most vulnerable.
“Our climate change adaptation work is through scaling up disaster risk reduction measures and strengthening traditional methods of coping with disasters that are relevant in particular environmental contexts. We also contribute to mitigating the progression of climate change through advocacy and social mobilization to promote sustainable community development that optimizes communities’ carbon footprints”.
20. How to introduce and embed climate change in NS work?
The involvement of a NS in climate issues is often led by a few individuals. In one country the topic may be strongly supported by the Secretary General, in another country the Head of the DM Department may have a strong personal interest. For the program to have a durable impact, it is absolutely crucial that, besides having these champions, there is a substantive buy in for the program at all departments & levels: senior management, middle level staff, project officers and branches. Although the Preparedness for Climate Change Programme is now closed, the use of the programme resources can be a helpful guide through the process of acquainting your national society with changing climate risks in your country, assessing priorities and developing actions. Online resources and support are still available through the RC/RC Climate Centre website at:
21. How can we approach training programs on climate for local RC staff, and volunteers?
Facilitators need to avoid presenting the climate topic too theoretically and scientifically. Instead of going into great detail on greenhouse gasses or the Kyoto Protocol, a good entry point proved to be talking about changes to rainfall and temperature or “funny” weather, which has recently been noticed. Building on these perceptions, climate change could then be “explained” enabling RC staff and volunteers to understand the key mechanisms that contribute to changing risks. As much as possible, make use of regular DM or health related training activities in the National Society to introduce and share knowledge on climate and related risks rather than organizing separate climate training events. Videos and games that could be used in such introductions (see www.climatecentre.org or ask advice at firstname.lastname@example.org).
E. QUESTIONS ON RELEVANT PARTNERSHIPS
22. How to build a meaningful collaboration with meteorological offices?
Strengthening collaboration between meteorological offices and RC societies faces a number of challenges. While NS are aware of the need for closer collaboration, they often need specific guidance on what specific weather data to ask for and how to interpret and apply these in project design and development. Collaboration needs to go beyond dialogue and it could be helpful in many cases formalize this through MoUs to ensure the sustainability of joint project interventions. As much as possible, NS should engage in DRR and CCA working groups and platforms in order to strengthen the collaboration with a variety of CC actors. Please read the online guidance provided by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, with guidance on what to ask and not to ask to Meteorological Offices.
23. How to engage on climate issues with other line Ministries and knowledge centres in my country?
In addition to the Meteorology Departments, the Environment Department (or similar agency responsible for national climate policy) is often a useful contact on climate change. In addition, collaboration with government line departments dealing with sectors potentially affected by climate change, such as water resources, agriculture, forestry, coastal management, environment and health is important. These contacts should not be limited to the national level, but should also take place at regional (sub-national) and municipal level. It is also recommended, especially in view of a thorough understanding of the climate context of the project sites you are working, that collaboration with universities and research centers with specific climate expertise are sought and that these knowledge centers have a continuous engagement in the development of the projects. Please read the online guidance provided by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, which contains information on the things to ask and not to ask to different stakeholders.
The statistics of weather over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical averaging period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Climates can be described as tropical, arid, polar etc. Characteristics of a climate are often described by seasons such as winter and summer, or the wet and dry times of year. In contrast, weather is the day-to-day experience of the climate, for example, a dry day during the rainy season.
A statistically significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) that persists for an extended period (decades or longer). The term climate change can be used to refer to climate change that results from both natural and man-made factors. However, the UNFCCC and this document uses the term to refer to the current human-induced climate change that is occurring, caused by human activities that are changing the composition of the atmosphere (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land use change.
Usually the term climate-related is used in reference to natural hazards to differentiate them from geophysical hazards. For example, floods, storms and drought are all climate-related. The term climate-related can be used without specifying whether such a hazard is attributed to climate change, climate variability, or simply the climate.
Climate Change Related
Climate change related refers to phenomenon related or attributable to climate change.
Variations in the state of the climate that can last from months to decades. Climate variability can result from natural and man-made process. However, this document uses the term to refer to natural processes. An example of such processes includes El Niño and La Niña.
Climate Change Adaptation
Adjustments in response to actual or expected climate change, to reduce negative impacts or take advantage of opportunities.
Climate Change Mitigation
Initiatives and measures to reduce the sources, or enhance the sinks, of greenhouse gases.
Climate Risk Management
An approach to systematically manage climate-related risks affecting activities, strategies or investments, by taking account of the risk of current variability and extremes in weather as well as long-term climate change. From a Red Cross/Red Crescent perspective, climate risk management is doing what we have always done in terms of disaster management, health and care, food security and so on, but paying attention to (1) the way risks are changing, and (2) options to reduce the risks in addition to being prepared to respond after the event.
Disaster Risk Reduction
The conceptual framework of elements considered with the possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks throughout a society, to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) the adverse impacts of hazards, within the broad context of sustainable development.
Provides a general indication of the likely character of the season over the next 3 months – specifically what the chances are that temperature or precipitation is likely to be normal, abovenormal and below-normal for the given place and time of year, based on conditions in the climate system. Seasonal forecasts indicate the likelihood of the general conditions for a particular season ahead and do not provide any information regarding day-to-day weather or extreme events.
Early Warning, Early Action
Routinely taking humanitarian action before a disaster or health emergency happens, making full use of scientific information on all timescales (IFRC, 2008).
The conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes, which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards. For positive factors, which increase the ability of people to cope with hazards. (ISDR).
Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. In most places, weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season.
Go here for the print-version of the above. Please download here the Spanish (pdf, 89 kB) and the Russian versions.
1. Why is climate change a Red Cross and Red Crescent matter?
Leading scientists indicate that the global climate is changing. As a result extreme weather is increasing, average temperature is rising, patterns of dry and wet periods are shifting, and sea levels are rising. These effects impact on the vulnerability of people.
Climate change is accompanied by an increase in extreme weather events. The trend can already be witnessed: frequency, intensity and unpredictability of extreme weather is increasing.
- Increasing floods as a result of heavy rainfall, leading to also to landslides and contamination of water supplies;
- More intense tropical storms, with higher wind speed and more rainfall;
- Heat waves multiply, endangering especially the elderly and disabled.
Temperatures and weather patterns
Climate change is causing higher average temperatures in most places, and affects common patterns of dry and wet periods:
- Prolonged droughts threaten food security and water availability;
- Spread of diseases: disease-carrying mosquitoes and tics move to new areas, areas affected by malaria and dengue are shifting.
Sea level rise
The temperature rise causes sea levels to rise as glaciers melt and warmer sea water takes up more volume.
- Coastal flooding becomes more frequent and salt water intrusion threatens water supply and food production.
These increases in vulnerability of people, particularly those on poor countries, makes climate change a matter for the Red Cross.
2. How does climate change affect the Red Cross Red Crescent work?
Addressing the increased vulnerability of people will mean that Red Cross and Red Crescent relief capacity has to be increased, but also that more should be done to prepare for disasters and reduce their risk.
The increase in weather related disasters, food shortages, vector borne diseases and flash floods will necessitate more Red Cross and Red Crescent assistance to affected people. This necessitates the strengthening of Red Cross and Red Crescent capacity in relief.
Post-disaster assistance is often costly. Moreover as the number of disasters increases, development efforts are seriously threatened. Therefore, apart from strengthening the capacity for post-disaster relief, the Red Cross and Red Crescent should also put more emphasis on pre-disaster disaster preparedness and risk reduction.
Increased numbers of disasters, often very local, necessitate the preparedness of communities to adequately respond to these: first aid, early warning, search and rescue, relief stocks, etc.
Disaster risk reduction
By reducing vulnerability of people and strengthening livelihoods, people become more resilient to disasters. Efforts should be aimed at food security, drinking water supplies, primary health care, and small infrastructural works, so that floods, storms, heat waves, droughts and diseases will have less effect.
3. What is the Red Cross and Red Crescent doing so far?
The Red Cross and Red Crescent are confronted with the effects of climate change because the vulnerability of people increases. For its assistance the Red Cross and Red Crescent will need more capacity, but it also needs to work with communities to increase their ability to address their own vulnerability. Moreover the Red Cross and Red Crescent will work to raise awareness within the Movement and with policy makers and the general public. Where possible it will highlight the negative impact of climate change on the vulnerability of people. Finally, as the science on climate change is becoming more detailed, and the Red Cross itself is gaining experience, knowledge will be analyzed, shared and applied where possible.
Raising awareness of the impact of climate change on the vulnerability of people and of options to decrease these impacts is of prime importance. It is vital that both the general public, policy makers, civil society organisations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement itself become more aware of these new risks.
Awareness needs to be put into practise in concrete programmes to decrease the risks of climate change for vulnerable people. Within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement these programmes build upon the existing practises of disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and health.
It is important to communicate the Red Cross and Red Crescent approach to climate risk reduction to policymakers, other international civil society organisations and scientists. Moreover the Red Cross and Red Crescent has a responsibility to highlight the impact of climate change on vulnerable people and to advocate for policies and measures, and funds that will reduce these impacts.
Addressing the humanitarian consequences of climate change is a rather new area of work and the urgency to learn and scale up in a short time frame is considerable. Analyzing the successes and failures of the Red Cross and Red Crescent approach to climate change risks and the programmes that are implemented will be a key component of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre's activities.
At national level, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are the key players. At international level, the Federation's Zone offices and Secretariat, supported by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, play an important role. Moreover the Climate Centre supports National Societies in increasing their understanding of the implications of climate change for their work, and in addressing the impacts of climate change in Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes.
4. Adaptation vs. mitigation
The discussion on how to address climate change takes place along two lines: greenhouse gas mitigation focuses on tackling the causes of climate change, adaptation on dealing with the consequences.
Greenhouse gas mitigation
The main cause of climate change are human induced greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). The focus of much of the climate change debate is on how these emissions can be reduced. This is a global debate where governments are the key players. The Kyoto protocol is the best known agreement in this field.
Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to stop today the global climate would still continue to change, given that the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted stay in the atmosphere for many decades. The consequences of climate change will therefore also continue to affect vulnerable people. These effects will manifest themselves at local level, and it is here that organizations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent play a key role.
As a humanitarian organization the Red Cross and Red Crescent does not have expertise on how to achieve reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. It will therefore not play a role in the political debate on policies and measures that aim at greenhouse gas mitigation. (However, the Red Cross and Red Crescent agrees that emission reduction is important). Instead, the key focus of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in its awareness, action, advocacy and analysis efforts, is on adaptation.
It should be noted that policy makers, civil society organizations and scientists dealing with climate change often use different language than the Red Cross and Red Crescent. As interaction with the climate change community increases the Red Cross and Red Crescent will inevitably be confronted with a vocabulary where particularly adaptation and mitigation have a different meaning.
Disaster management community
Climate change community
Reducing the impact of disasters
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Helping people to cope with or reduce the impact of climate change. This is the same meaning as ‘mitigation’ in the disaster management context
5. What is and what is not Climate Change?
Climate change becomes such a hot topic that many people tend to relate all disasters to climate change. Especially the Red Cross and Red Crescent, whose credibility and expertise is based on understanding and dealing with disasters, it is important to clearly distinct climate change related disasters from other natural disasters.
Disasters caused or aggravated by climate change
Climate change will have an effect on weather-related disasters. This implies more extreme weather with heavy rainfall, floods, storms, heat waves. It also implies higher average temperatures and prolonged dry or wet periods with extreme hot and cold days and with a spread of vector borne diseases. And it implies sea level rise with coastal erosion and flooding on coastal areas. But keep in mind that no single disaster is ever `caused´ solely by climate change. All climate change does is to increase the risks.
Disasters not caused or aggravated by climate change
Climate change does not lead to so called geo-physical disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruption and tsunamis.
6. I work with the Red Cross and Red Crescent / I am a Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer: what's your advice to me?
Focus on climate change adaptation
Strengthen the community’s capacity to deal with the increasing risks of climate change and reduce their vulnerability through risk reduction efforts
Involve in debates on climate change mitigation
Although RCRC agrees that the emission of green house gasses should be reduced to prevent further climate change, it does not take a position on policies and measures how to achieve this
Advocate with governments in developing climate change adaptation policies and strategy
Advocate with governments on how greenhouse gas reduction policies and strategy
Work closely with meteorological institutes to:
1. map climate risk of communities in order to develop adaptation programmes
2. ensure weather forecast is linked to early warning at community level
Take the role of the Meteorological Institute or climate scientists
RC/RC is no experts in the science of climate change. Any question on scientific aspect of climate change should be referred to the appropriate government agency or institute.
Mainstream climate change adaptation into existing programmes of National Societies
Parachute scientific data and jargon on climate change to the communities
Q&A on Climate Change and Disasters
Is there an increase in disasters?
There is an increase in disasters. All statistics tell us this, including our own statistics. However, the numbers fluctuate. In 2008 and 2009 there were less disasters then the average in the last ten years. In the early 1990s the average was around 200 a year. In the past decade it has never been below 300 a year.
Is this increase due to climate change?
There are two aspects to this:
One important reason for the increase in disasters is an increase in exposure and vulnerability, for instance because more people live in areas that get hit by floods or storms.
However, there is also scientific evidence that the frequency and/or intensity of several hazards (such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and storms) are increasing, and it is likely that these increases will continue. This clearly has an additional impact on the risk of natural disasters.
In any case, our job as the Red Cross/Red Crescent is to deal with the increase in disasters that we see here and now. In addition, we are trying to use the best available science to prepare for what may happen in the future.
So why do you believe that the future will be different?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarizes the knowledge on climate change. Thousands of scientists contribute to the work of the IPCC. Ever 5-6 years three big reports are produced, the IPCC Assessment Reports. A summary for policymakers of each report, carrying the main conclusions, gets reviewed and approved by all governments. The IPCC concludes that climate change is already happening, but also that it is very likely caused by humans, and will probably accelerate, so we have to plan accordingly.
So you’re basing your evidence on the IPCC. Recent reports have questioned the quality of their reports, specifically also in terms of the link between disasters and climate change. Why do you trust them?
The IPCC is composed of hundreds of the best scientists from all over the world, who summarize the best scientific knowledge, primarily from articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The reports go through a very thorough review process. Recent media attention focused on a few errors in a 3000 page report. While regrettable, these errors do not affect the main conclusions of the IPCC that climate change is happening and very likely due to human greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence specifically related to the changes in hazards is very solid.
But doesn’t the Red Cross have other things to do than worry about what will happen in the future?
The problem is here and now. Scientific observations tell us risks are increasing. We are also getting reports of strange weather from our own Red Cross volunteers all over the world. This is a challenge that we have to start working on today.
And science about climate change does not provide all the answers – part of the problem is that as we get more sure about the change in global climate, we are getting less sure about what risks to expect in a particular place. So our strategies are not only to work with a scenario about what may happen in the year 2100. We work on getting better at planning for next week, next season and the next few years. There is a lot of climate information available for these different time-periods into the future, and we need to get better at using that information. In addition, there is a lot we can do to reduce risk and increase community resilience, even only in the face of rising uncertainty. All of these investments will pay off regardless of precisely how climate change will unfold.