Newsletter Issue 15

Newsletter Issue 15
31 March 2010

Copenhagen Climate Summit: Disappointment but not all is lost

The UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen COP 15, was an unprecedented event. Never before were so many Heads of State, civil society organizations and media together in one place. This underlined the relevance and high expectations of the summit. The result however was mixed and confusing, and the direction of the next steps still remain unclear. Nevertheless, key elements of global climate change issues were addressed in the Copenhagen Accord.

There was a lot of confusion about the process in the final hours of the COP. The Copenhagen Accord was a political agreement signed off by the 28 leaders of the major global economies and groups of other countries. In the Accord Industrialized Countries could not agree on greenhouse gas emission reduction targets beyond what they already had pledged individually or as a group (EU) before the summit. New emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa, were expected to join in (for the first  time since the signing of the UN climate change convention in 1992) and commit to invest in green technologies. This should lead to significantly less greenhouse gas emissions (within the expected economic growth) than in a ‘business as usual scenario’, with massive use of fossil fuel like coal. A stumbling block was the reporting system.

However, the final discussion on the Accord had to take place in the UN-plenary with 192 counties, where consensus is the rule. While Heads of States were rushing home on Friday evening, Ministers and the technical negotiators discussed the Accord and its implications until 5 pm on Saturday 19 December. By then, and after some discouraging and heart breaking scenes in the middle of the night, there was no consensus on the Accord, and no clarity on the role of the Accord in the UNFCCC process. In the end, the COP only formally “took note” of the Accord. It was also agreed that the negotiations to come to a real UN agreement should be extended by another year, to be concluded in Mexico at COP 16, or in South Africa at COP 17.

But Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies do not need to wait for more political clarity to continue working on climate resilience at the national and community level. The Copenhagen Accord did bring commitments for substantial finance for adaptation in developing countries ( in the range of 15 billion) in the coming three years (2010-2012). This is a good basis for National Societies to increase their capacities to develop climate resilient programmes and strengthen their engagement in national and regional policy dialogues on climate change adaptation.

Preparedness for Climate Change Programme Phase 2 (PfCC2)

39 National Societies (NS) participated in the first phase of the Preparedness for Climate Change programme from 2006-2009 which responded to the agreements at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (RC/RC) to step up the Red Cross/Red Crescent’s engagement in addressing the humanitarian consequences of climate change. The Climate Centre have compiled a report which provides an overview of the results of the PfCC1 programme which can be downloaded here.

A second phase is currently ongoing, and 25 additional National Societies will be assessing the implications of climate change for their country, plans and programs. The program is funded by the Netherlands government, coordinated by the Climate Centre, but support to NSs is primarily provided by the Zone and regional offices of the IFRC, with technical backup from the Climate Centre, including a helpdesk based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Federation focal points are now determining agreements and the action plan for the coming year with National Societies involved.

For further information, see and the web-based guidance  for phase 2 design of the PfCC programme, or contact Lisette Braman.

Health risk management in a changing climate

In late 2009 the Climate Centre secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for the proposal ‘Health risk management in a changing climate’. The project will run over 2.5 years, starting in early 2010. Different project components aim to further the understanding on how to deal with two of the main challenges to health posed by climate change by focusing on extreme events in East Africa and gradual changes in vector-borne diseases in Southeast Asia.

In East Africa, the focus is on using climate information to address the health effects of extreme precipitation and flooding at community level in Kenya and Tanzania to help prepare for changing risks due to climate change. National Societies will first identify how climate information on different time-scales can help operational decision making, and will then work with meteorology services to identify the best climate information products. The project will also seek to identify how best to inform local communities on climate change, climate variability and associated health risks.

In Southeast Asia the project will help the National Societies to address changing patterns of vector borne disease, focusing on dengue fever in Vietnam and Indonesia. The project will ensure the Red Cross’ existing auxiliary relationship with health ministries takes account of climate-sensitive diseases. This will involve enhancing the Red Cross’ ability to monitor surveillance information and to stay aware if patterns of dengue change – whether due to climate change or other factors – and plan response accordingly. The project will also include community-based dengue prevention in collaboration with local health authorities, and identify how best to inform communities on prevention of dengue and the links between climate and dengue in the context of other factors such as urbanisation.

Partnerships are key to the project. The Climate Centre will build on the existing relationship with IRI but also build relationships with academic and other knowledge centers as well as with other partners of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The two project components feed the global learning component which runs throughout the project, extracting lessons learned at every stage. This enables the benefits to reach far beyond the project implementation sites, enhancing health work in the rest of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

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 in the face of rising uncertainty. All of these investments will pay off regardless of precisely how climate change will unfold.

Haiti support

This February, the Climate Centre worked in collaboration with IRI and a number of other partners to develop a website for disaster managers in Haiti to monitor rainfall forecasts across timescales. The website also features information on vulnerability, helping disaster managers take into account factors such as flood and landslide risk, when deciding where to place longer-term shelters.  The seasonal forecast for Haiti shows a slightly enhanced chance of above normal rainfall over the next 6 months. With so many people living in shelters, and with drainage and sewage systems in disrepair, disaster managers are seeing that even a low or typical amount of rainfall can have a big impact in some areas.  The rainy season gets into full swing in April, and hurricane season officially begins June 1st.  We invite disaster managers working in Haiti to take advantage of the forecast and vulnerability information provided online.

MENA DM Meeting

In the final week of January 2010, Disaster Management specialists from across the Middle East and Northern Africa met in Jordan to plan activities for the next year. The Climate Centre facilitated a session that resulted in fruitful discussion on climate change and its linkages with the need for responses that address long term, slow onset risks (such as persistent drought) along with increased intensity of extreme events (such as heavier rainfall). National Societies and the Federation planned areas of action for the year ahead include a regional training on climate change and pilots in at least 4 countries. It was identified that opportunities for using climate information also exist in areas such as contingency planning, DRR programme development, health considerations, advocacy and youth related activities.

ICCCAD Course Bangladesh

In November 2009 the Climate Centre provided a resource person at a community based climate change adaptation training in Bangladesh. The training was run by the newly developed International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University of Bangladesh. The centre is the brainchild of experienced climate change researcher and advocate, Saleem Huq. The 7 day course for NGOs contained sessions on the science, international climate change negotiations, as well as practical adaptation in the community context. An emphasis was placed on needing to incorporate both development and disaster risk reduction considerations. There is currently an undersupply of training to operationalise working on climate change at the community and programmatic level and the reason for the Climate Centre ‘spying’ on the event was to further develop the Climate Centre’s approaches. The Climate Centre aims to scale up its training support tailored to Red Cross/Red Crescent needs in 2010.

Volunteering in the Pacific – going with the flow!

Cherise Chadwick, a former intern at Yemen Red Crescent from Kings College London, took on a 3 month volunteer placement with the Federation Pacific office in Fiji recently. Cherise has used her expertise in climate change and disaster risk reduction to work on a range of activities, including holding a workshop to gather lessons learned on community based approaches (including working on climate change) from experienced Pacific National Society staff and the subsequent development of a Pacific based practitioners guide to community based work. Her work has also taken her to the eastern provinces of Papua New Guinea to help with climate change sessions at their Disaster Management forum, and assisted with Pacific specific advocacy approaches, especially in the build up to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Read more here….

Senegal workshop

With the support of the IFRC West and Central Africa Zone Office, the Climate Centre designed and facilitated an Early Warning, Early Action workshop During December 1-4 in Saint-Louis (Northern Senegal). This event convened 35 participants including Senegal Red Cross staff working at various geographic scales (from headquarters to community volunteers), scientists who develop predictions of various climate-related hazards at different time scales, and represented all geographic levels of forecasting (from global to district level), disaster managers from Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo, and representatives from a nearby vulnerable community. Through a series of innovative activities, including learning sessions in very small groups, specially designed games and a visit to the flood-prone village of Doune Baba Dieye, this workshop helped establish the foundations for three early warning systems addressing various threats in Senegal, as well as improve the use of predictions for humanitarian decisions. A short video about one of the games is available here. A set of similar workshops is planned for 2010 in other regions.

East Asia takes on climate change

With back up technical assistance from the Climate Centre and the Federation’s East Asia office, work on climate change will begin this year in the Fujian province in China and in Mongolia. The East Asia region will also be hosting an intern from IRI who has a meteorological background to help them explore who the major climate information providers are and where opportunities for collaboration might lie. The Climate Centre was also very fortunate to be given a slot at the March East Asia Partnership meeting which enabled all who work in and support the region to discuss together the implications of climate change for their various areas of work such as community based risk reduction, partnerships, advocacy and communications. Recently obtained data from a field trip in the Fujian province in China was used to demonstrate the very clear trends in climate that are leading to more extreme weather events (both too much and too little rainfall) and temperature rise (increased frequency of heat waves).

Italian Red Cross Youth and the climate change challenge

One of the aims of the Associative Project (identity card of Italian Red Cross Youth) is ‘to improve society we live in and life conditions of vulnerable people alleviating their suffering’ and ‘to take part in every action that sustains them in relation to emerging needs’. With this mission Italian Red Cross Youth has chosen to act in the direction undertaken by the Climate Centre and the Federation. Go here for the complete report.

Internships and young scholars

In addition to the IRI internships, the Climate Centre has successfully engaged other academic institutions to recruit young scholars for humanitarian work. For example, Kings College London (Dept. of Geography) helped recruit masters student Cherise Chadwick to work on climate change with Yemen Red Crescent, and University of Iceland school of engineering supplied masters student Charlotte Jónsdóttir Ferrier for modelling early warning options in Senegal. By the end of 2009, several universities have offered to organize student support in specific fields to help Red Cross / Red Crescent climate risk management initiatives:

  • Climate science (Columbia University)
  • Risk assessment and mapping (MIT and University of Iceland)
  • Environmental management (Yale University)
  • Disaster management (Kings College London and Royal Roads University)
  • Health (Harvard University)
  • Climate and development (University of Sussex)
  • Videotools (University of Miami)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (Heller School)
  • Communication and information design (Parsons School of Design)
  • Early Warning systems (MIT + Parsons)

The Climate Centre has developed a systematic way to match humanitarian needs with students offering to help (always involving adequate supervision by faculty). About two dozen young scholars have already helped national societies and IFRC zonal and regional offices, and in the process they have fulfilled their academic requirements (masters thesis, internship, coursework, etc). At least five of these young scholars are now employed by various Red Cross / Red Crescent teams in three continents, demonstrating the value of nurturing a new generation of humanitarian practitioners well versed in climate issues. Examples of student work facilitated by the Climate Centre can be found here. Please contact the Climate Centre for more information on the intern programme.


Starting March 1, Knud Falk is assisting the Climate Centre in its support to the Movement on climate-related program development and resource mobilization.

We are pleased to announce that Fleur Monasso has given birth to a beautiful baby boy last February. Mother and child are doing very well.

During Fleur’s pregnancy and maternity leave, Lisette Braman is responsible for day-to-day coordination of the Preparedness for Climate Change program. Lina Nerlander will be focal point for Europe and Central Asia.

In 2010 Bec McNaught will begin a Masters by research (Geography) at Melbourne University part time. She will be investigating and documenting approaches used to date in the Red Cross/Red Crescent on considering climate change through the use of case studies.

The Climate Centre would like to thank the small team of consultants that has been supporting our team in the research and writing of background documents for PfCC2 countries. These include: Caitlin Kopcik and Cynthia Thomson, both graduates from Columbia University’s masters programme in Climate and Society who did their summer internships with the Red Cross in Central America and the Pacific; and Ana Karla Perea and Julianne Baker, both current masters students in Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

For all general questions concerning the Climate Centre, please contact Desiree Davidse at or phone +31 70 4455886.