Review of the Year 2023
by the Climate Centre
(A snapshot of the year’s events and our engagement with them through the eyes of the Climate Centre news service.)
The great majority – just over 90 per cent – of the 710 disasters in 2020–21 that killed nearly 30,000 people and affected over 220 million were climate- and weather-related, World Disasters Report 2022 said, far outnumbering geological or industrial disasters.
The year 2022 was the eighth in a row that the global temperature had reached at least 1°C above pre-industrial levels, a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) press release said.
The IFRC said Somalia’s worst drought in 40 years was forcing more and more people to leave their homes in search of food and pasture.
In one of its first climate-related grants of the year, the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) sent nearly 500,000 Swiss francs to help the Mozambique Red Cross address a cholera outbreak affecting five provinces and set to worsen as the rainy season neared its peak, with “well above-average” downpours predicted.
The Prudence Foundation and the IFRC through the Climate Centre announced a new partnership to explore the health impacts of air pollution, extreme heat and humidity. The 18-month research project will identify important gaps in the literature and culminate in an action plan to address the health impacts of climate change in a chosen Asian city.
In an important success for anticipatory action, farmers in Kenya’s southern Kwale county harvested a variety of crops thanks to an early-action distribution of specialized seeds by the Kenya Red Cross Society: green grams, cowpeas and sorghum, temporarily replacing traditional but more vulnerable maize.
Petra Khoury, IFRC Director of Health and Care, said in an article on The BMJ website that intensified hurricanes and floods had aggravated the most serious global surge of cholera in a decade: once thought to be close to eradication, “cholera is back” and is dehydrating and killing people within hours and ravaging communities across six continents.
A three-day expert meeting aimed at progressing the use in Africa of digital technology to help hydrometeorological services improve early warning was held in Addis Ababa.
The Ethiopian Minister for Water and Energy, Abraha Adugna, said: “The frequency and intensity of hazards is significant in Africa and the impacts are putting pressure on socioeconomic sectors.”
Two DREF grants helped the Malagasy and Mozambique Red Cross quickly address impacts of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which at one point was threatening as many as 2 million people, including in Zimbabwe.
Early warning of a new El Niño “in the coming months” came from the WMO, but it would possibly not ease the drought in the Horn of Africa and impacts of the long-lived La Niña were expected to linger.
The Climate Centre represented the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement at the first in-person meeting of the Global Heat Health Information Network since the Covid pandemic, at the University of Arizona’s centre in Washington, DC.
The 2023 round table on climate and security in The Hague included the Climate Centre’s Acting Director, Carina Bachofen, and specialist researcher Juliane Schillinger.
It covered the growing challenge of getting climate finance through to fragile and conflict-affected states that are disproportionately vulnerable.
The Malawi government said record-breaking Cyclone Freddy had claimed nearly 200 lives as it passed through the country after making a second landfall in Mozambique; the Malawi Red Cross undertook anticipatory actions with the support of its Danish Red Cross partners.
The European Humanitarian Forum in Brussels focused on the increasing gap between needs and available humanitarian resources and the impact of climate change. Movement engagement at #EHF2023, included IFRC Under Secretary General Xavier Castellanos, who told a panel: “When we talk about hunger, it is the most undignified suffering of humanity, and in the case of compound crises, climate change adds a tremendous level of pressure to people.”
‘The frequency and intensity of hazards is significant in Africa and the impacts
are putting pressure on socio-economic sectors’
In one of the first heat and fire emergencies of the year, Spanish Red Cross volunteers in four specialist teams were deployed in the north-west principality of Asturias as it was swept by wildfires aggravated by strong winds, after an unusually dry and warm winter.
The start of the long rains in Kenya caused floods across northern and southern parts of the country, concentrated over six days in late March, claiming lives and displacing hundreds of people, the Kenya Red Cross reported in April; a DREF grant of nearly 450,000 Swiss francs was announced to help the KRCS bring relief to 15,000 people.
Heavy seasonal rainfall since mid-March caused flooding in many of Yemen’s governorates, affecting thousands of IDP families. Already one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, only 13 countries were assessed as being more vulnerable to climate impacts than Yemen in the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, quoted by the Climate Centre in a country profile.
A ground-breaking project to catalyse global research at the intersection of climate change and mental health was launched at an online event. Funded by the Wellcome charitable health foundation and led by Imperial College London, the new Connecting Climate Minds consortium includes experts from the Climate Centre and the IFRC Psychosocial Centre.
The Uruguayan Red Cross, having been supported by the DREF to assess needs in a nationwide drought, produced a response plan to assist 12,000 vulnerable people in the most severely affected departments of Tacuarembó, Cerro Largo, Florida, Lavalleja and San José.
Climate change has turned what would have been manageable dry conditions in the Horn of Africa into what the US Drought Monitor classifies as “exceptional drought” – the most severe of its five levels, World Weather Attribution scientists said in a new report, one of the first in a busy year for WWA, of which the Climate Centre is a part.
We reported on work by the Spanish Red Cross to reach vulnerable groups such as the elderly with health advice as – together with much of Portugal – some of the country wilted in abnormally high temperatures that touched 40°C in Andalusia.
A rapid WWA study a little later of the extraordinary April heatwave in the western Mediterranean said that while Europe and North Africa have experienced more extreme heat in recent years, the April heatwave was “so extreme that it is also a rare event in today’s warmer climate”.
The WMO updated the probability of El Niño developing to 60 per cent by July, rising to 80 per cent by September.
The Climate Centre and the Norwegian Red Cross released a new brief, Synergies in Social Protection and WASH: What should Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies know? It explores how water, sanitation and hygiene and social protection share common goals and objectives.
Accurate national and international forecasts of the Mocha storm system as much as a week in advance and local warnings helped the National Societies in Myanmar and Bangladesh activate emergency preparedness operations.
A feature story from the ICRC that we cross-promoted showed how in Iraq, Syria and Yemen the effects of climate change are being amplified by the consequences of armed conflict.
On the second-ever global Heat Action Day on 2 June, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers were out and about making sure communities knew how to stay safe during a heatwave, many of them equipped with guidance generated by the Climate Centre in recent years.
Tens of millions of people in North America were advised to wear face-masks outdoors or stay indoors because of poor air-quality from continuing major wildfires in eastern Canada.
The Sri Lankan government reported nearly 2,400 new cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever in one week – bringing the total for the year so far to more than 40,000. With ten health ministry areas experiencing an upward trend, it was the latest example of gradually expanding vector-borne disease as mosquito habitats grew with global warming.
After Mauritania became the latest country to join the IFRC regional appeal for food security in Africa, bringing the total to 15, the Climate Centre’s Kiswendsida Guigma reported that the Sahel “shows us the multi-faceted nature of climate change in the region. Both humid and dry extremes are indeed increasing, challenging traditional coping mechanisms.”
The Solomon Islands Red Cross Society conducted a successful pilot training session on climate action for young National Society staff and volunteers, facilitated by the Climate Centre. It included at least 20 young people from National Society branches including Western, Malaita, Makira Ulawa, Honiara, the capital where it was held, and Guadalcanal.
Describing the IFRC Global Innovation Summit 2023 as “a fantastic opportunity to reimagine humanitarian action”, Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said a culture of innovation would enable the Red Cross Red Crescent to address the needs of communities served by the Movement more effectively. A huge variety of workshops over the three days included the Climate Centre’s youth games, facilitated by the MENA youth network.
A WWA study concluded that without greater investment in weather stations, climate science and human vulnerability in central Africa, the region will struggle to understand future climate risks.
The April heatwave was ‘so extreme that it’s also a rare event in today’s warmer climate’
The WMO confirmed the first El Niño conditions for seven years, setting the stage for a surge in global temperatures and disruptive weather and climate patterns. Global warming is accelerating in Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighting what it called “a vicious circle of spiralling impacts on countries and local communities”.
The Italian Red Cross launched the second two-year phase of its campaign to raise environmental awareness: Effetto Terra (Earth Effect), including preparedness for extreme events, while climate champions from 20 National Societies gathered at the IFRC offices in Geneva to identify ways to expand locally led climate action.
The Climate Centre joined an international collaboration aimed at improving early warning and enhancing resilience to tropical cyclones in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique. The REPRESA project is the first of a series in a joint UK- and Canadian-supported research programmes on climate adaptation and resilience.
The death toll as wildfires swept across parts of Algeria rose to 34 people, including ten soldiers, while 8,000 firefighters battled to bring the flames under control. Elsewhere in an extreme July, wildfires raged in Sicily after weeks of extreme heat, while northern regions of Italy also saw violent storms and high winds.
With red alerts for heat danger issued in at least seven European countries, the IFRC emphasized that the elderly and people with chronic health conditions are particularly at risk.
Countries across Asia Pacific reeled from multiple disasters wreaking havoc in the region, exacerbated by El Niño and climate change, the IFRC said. Eight DREF allocations for climate-related events had been issued by this point in the year: three for dengue to Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka; three for floods to Mongolia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; one for a tropical cyclone to Bangladesh; and one for a cold snap in Mongolia.
The IFRC and the Climate Centre published a comprehensive new guide to climate-smart programming and humanitarian operations for National Societies. Available in full and summary versions, the guide focuses on how to use climate-related information to reduce risk and human vulnerability.
Another Climate Centre brief argued that coherence between social protection and climate action becomes was becoming ever more imperative.
“Never before has the Norwegian Red Cross responded to so many simultaneous local emergency incidents as right now,” the National Society said in a press release after Storm Hans brought high winds, intense rain and landslides to the Nordic region, downing power lines in Finland and flooding villages in Norway and Sweden.
A new project – Improved Anticipation of Flood on the White Nile – will research how to better understand and predict flooding on the River Nile in Uganda and South Sudan, led jointly by Climate Centre partners at the University of Reading and the IGAD Climate Predictions and Forecasting Centre.
The Canadian Red Cross launched a national appeal to assist people affected by hundreds of new wildfires raging in British Columbia – the latest chapter in what was already by far the most destructive wildfire season in modern Canadian history. Yan Boulanger, a scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said: “The word ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t do justice to the severity of the wildfires in Canada this year.”
After record-breaking heat and wildfires earlier in the northern-hemisphere summer, National Societies in several southern European countries had to address the opposite extreme: intense rainfall and dramatic flash floods.
The IFRC announced an emergency appeal for 10 million Swiss francs to scale up the Libyan Red Crescent’s relief efforts in response to Storm Daniel, which devastated the country’s north-east, destroying homes, public institutions, power and communications networks, water and sewage systems.
After WWA scientists said climate change made the disaster in Libya significantly more likely, Jagan Chapagain described it as a “wake-up call for the world” on the increasing risk of catastrophic floods in a world affected by climate change.
With funding and support from the Netherlands, Water at the Heart of Climate Action partnership was announced, involving the IFRC, the Netherlands Red Cross, the Climate Centre and others.
‘This agreement is a step in the right direction but we needed a leap’
The week-long Adaptation Futures conference ended in Montreal, where the Climate Centre was represented by Manon Ebel, a Technical Adviser, and Acting Director Julie Arrighi, who said new data on temperature and the partly infrastructure-related catastrophe in Libya showed “how extreme weather is combining with human factors to create even bigger impacts”.
The three-day 11th global dialogue platform on anticipatory humanitarian action took place in Berlin as a hybrid event with the theme People at the centre: scaling up anticipatory action; its emblem was a tapestry-inspired artwork created by Climate Centre artist Rekeba Ryvola.
Early spring heat in South America was at least 100 times more likely due to human-caused climate change, the latest WWA study found. The analysis found that while El Niño may have had some influence, climate change was the main driver of the heat.
The Climate Centre joined many others in mourning the loss of Professor Saleemul Huq, seen as a torchbearer in Bangladesh’s and the world’s struggle against climate change and a great friend of the Red Cross Red Crescent, who died at his home in Dhaka at the age of 71.
The Climate Centre assisted the IFRC in publishing a new road map for climate action in the Europe region, framing how the 53 National Societies in Europe and Central Asia will expand climate action over the next few years.
The Climate Centre and the Prudence Foundation published a scoping review of more than 30 studies to better understand the compound risk to human health of heat, humidity, and air pollution.
Our European Commission partners issued the first call for proposals for a new programme that will finance and empower more than 100 regions and communities across Europe over the next five years to develop visions of a climate-resilient future.
The latest WWA study said lengthy and severe droughts like the one Iran, Iraq and Syria have experienced since 2020 are no longer rare events, and can be expected at least once a decade in Syria and Iraq and twice every decade in Iran because of climate change.
With floods affecting large parts of East Africa, the Kenya and Uganda Red Cross activated their early action protocols for floods, together worth nearly more than half a million Swiss francs from the DREF.
A WWA study of record-breaking heat in Madagascar, the first to quantify the influence of climate change on a heatwave in a Sub-Saharan African country, found climate change made the October heat up to 2°C more intense than it would have been.
In a stark warning just ahead of the UN climate talks in Dubai, Jagan Chapagain – who was on the COP28 advisory committee – said the climate and environmental crisis is a hazard multiplier, exacerbating almost every humanitarian disaster the organization faces.
In the latest in a series of ICRC blogs on humanitarian law and policy, Catherine-Lune Grayson, Head of Policy, and Amir Khouzam, Policy Adviser, introduced a new report, Weathering the Storm, which the Climate Centre reviewed, calling for global efforts to ensure climate action also reached people coping with the consequences of conflict.
The US humanitarian and businesswoman, Kate Forbes, was elected to be the new president of the IFRC – only the second woman to hold the position – marking “a pivotal shift towards addressing the complexities of the modern world,” the IFRC said. Her leadership would tackle “the urgent issues of climate change and migration,” while local solutions and community empowerment were at the forefront of her agenda.
On 12 December, Universal Health Coverage Day, the Climate Centre’s Sajanika Sivanu introduced a comprehensive overview of universal health coverage as a pillar of social protection.
On Day 1 of COP28, the IFRC formalized a cooperation agreement with Climate Centre partners ICLEI – the 2,500-strong global network of local and regional governments working for sustainable urban development in at least 125 countries. It was signed by Under Secretary General Xavier Castellanos and Gino van Begin, ICLEI Secretary General, and concretized “an already strong relationship”.
The Climate Centre published a summary of findings on loss and damage from the Working Group II report of the sixth IPCC assessment of the global climate, timed to coincide with the UN climate talks.
Development and Climate Days 2023 “created a safe space for uncomfortable yet necessary conversations about the challenges of inaction and shifting the status quo,” said the International Institute for Environment and Development, joint organizers with the Climate Centre.
At their conclusion, Jagan Chapagain said the UN climate talks represented “a step in the right direction but we needed a leap. The establishment of a loss and damage fund and progress on the global goal on adaptation are both welcome.
“It’s good, too, that there’s some improved language on mitigation. But this is not yet backed by the necessary finance, and everything is happening far too slowly.”
From top left, climate change contributed significantly both to the catastrophic flash-flood in Libya and very intense wildfires in Canada, World Weather Attribution scientists concluded; Agnes Ngula takes Red Cross teams on a tour of her fields in Kinango sub-county – she was among 1,500 farmers supported with drought-resistant seeds by the Kenya Red Cross Society, and most produced a good harvest in early 2023; Italian Red Cross volunteers cleaning up after floods in the Emilia-Romagna region in May. (Photos: National Societies and IFRC)