COP28: ‘The climate and environmental crisis is the IFRC’s top global challenge’

COP28: ‘The climate and environmental crisis is the IFRC’s top global challenge’
30 November 2023

By the Climate Centre

(A version of this story appeared first as an IFRC press release issued earlier today in Dubai and Geneva. You can follow the International Federation’s engagement at the UN climate talks online here and for journalists through  

In a stark warning just ahead of the UN climate talks that started in Dubai today, IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain – who is on the COP28 advisory committee – has said the climate and environmental crisis is a multiplier, exacerbating almost every humanitarian disaster the organization faces. 

“Whether it’s a hunger crisis and people forced to move because of drought, a health emergency exacerbated by heat, killer flooding caused by exceptional rain, disputes over diminishing tracts of arable land, or an uptick in malaria deaths due to warmer temperatures, climate change plays a role in exacerbating the impact of so-called natural disasters,” he said yesterday.

The climate and environmental crisis is the biggest global challenge the IFRC faces. Addressing its impacts means addressing the base issues that turn hazards into disasters and doing that at the base level where people are most affected. If we want to tackle humanitarian disasters, it really is all about that base.”

Climate or extreme weather was a contributing factor to the vast majority – new analysis suggests 94 per cent – of all natural hazards between 2018 and 2022 that had impacts; and that proportion, according to an IFRC report, increases every year.

Climate change is unequivocally making the impacts of those hazards worse too: the subsequent disasters – measured through damaged buildings and crops, injuries and deaths – get ever more serious.

But natural hazards, even as climate change makes them more common and more fierce, only become disasters because of inequality, exclusion and a lack of support when and where it’s needed most.

When adaptation investment happens, when anticipatory work is done where it matters, where local communities are prepared and where the right finance is in place before and after weather events hit, disastrous consequences are not inevitable.   

‘IFRC leaders and experts will argue for a mix of mitigation, adaptation, and accelerated efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage’

The IFRC is a global organization focused on preventing, adapting to, and relieving the impacts of disasters. That’s why recognising the base reasons that hazards exacerbated by climate change turn into disasters – and addressing them at the local, base level – matters so much. 

At the COP, IFRC leaders and experts will argue that a humanitarian catastrophe can only be avoided through a mix of mitigation, adaptation to a world inevitably warmer than today’s, and accelerated efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage.

They will say that the focus for adaptation should be on base issues in the countries, communities and crises most affected by climate change, but seeing the least adaptation funding. And they will argue that the most effective projects and initiatives are community-led, grassroots initiatives that work from the base up.

At COP28 in Dubai and participating remotely, the IFRC has leaders and climate experts available to talk to the media. As well as Jagan Chapagain, they include: Francesco Rocca, IFRC President; Caroline Holt, Director of Climate, Disaster and Crisis; Kirsten Hagon, Head of Climate Policy; Jonathan Stone, Climate and Resilience Manager. 

Also available for interviews are climate champions, with stories of tackling climate change and its impacts at its base.  These include: 

*Kevin Douglas from the Jamaican Red Cross, who is working with the local government to ensure better local community knowledge of the importance of nature in reducing risks. He encourages and leads the planting of mangroves to prevent flooding, for example. 

*Sonia Mercedes Paz Salas from the Colombian Red Cross, which pioneered a transformative project in flood-prone Colombian river-bank communities. This meant engaging the community to construct stilt houses and a critical 1.1km footbridge, ultimately enhancing living conditions for river-bank families and safeguarding over 5,500 individuals in neighbouring villages.

*Prisca Chisala from the Malawi Red Cross. When Cyclone Freddy hit in March, the Malawi Red Cross was on the front line, dealing with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and tackling a cholera outbreak. And although 200 people died in the storm, it would have been much worse but for the anticipatory actions and the innovative ways warnings were issued across the affected area.  

Armenian Red Cross climate champion and COP28 delegate Ani Gevorgyan and Jagan Chapagain at today’s COP28 opening ceremony in Dubai. The IFRC Secretary General – who is on the COP28 advisory committee – has said the climate and environmental crisis is exacerbating almost every humanitarian disaster the organization faces. (Photo: IFRC)