Scaling up ambition on social protection and climate – what can Covid teach us?

Scaling up ambition on social protection and climate – what can Covid teach us?
25 June 2021

by the Climate Centre

A new brief incorporating social protection responses to Covid-19, published this week, argues that “it is essential to have large-scale risk-management systems in place to protect livelihoods, property, and lives in response to the accelerating impacts of environmental change”.

Social protection can serve as a strategic tool for managing climate risk and responds to calls for “climate action and increased resilience as we recover from Covid-19,” says Social protection and climate change: scaling up ambition, jointly authored by Climate Centre and experts of the service Social Protection Approaches to Covid-19: Expert Advice (SPACE), funded by the UK, German, and Australian governments.

SPACE provides governments, donors and implementing partners with support on how to maintain or adapt existing systems and programmes to meet rapidly growing needs. To date, they have engaged with over 40 countries and supported over 30 donors and other agencies to respond to Covid.

This paper is one of a series of products on the impacts of COVID-19, and opportunities to build back better through social protection and humanitarian cash and vouchers.

It argues that social protection in response to Covid, which it puts at more than US$ 800 billion globally in more than 1,400 distinct programmes in 2020, is “evidence of its effectiveness in addressing [shocks]”.

‘The next five years are crucial for making
social protection a tool for
climate-risk management’

Similarly, social protection can help manage climate risks by addressing chronic poverty, providing support during periods of economic disruption, and ultimately building resilience and enhancing adaptation.

The new paper articulates “the need to strategically link social protection and national climate change responses” and proposes a framework that merges the two agendas, “recognizing social protection as a key policy instrument for managing climate change”.

Climate change, it says, is creating new risks from the interaction of three factors: hazards, exposure, and vulnerability.

Drivers of risk result either from climate change directly or processes outside the climate system exacerbated by climate change, such as deforestation and urbanization, and also measures to respond to climate change, including mitigation and adaptation: “For example, if not addressed, mitigation policies may lead to job losses, cause higher energy prices disproportionately affecting the poor, and contribute to food insecurity.”

‘Step change’

Climate change and poverty constitute “a very substantial new challenge, with increasing poverty, vulnerability and inequality amplifying…shocks and environmental concerns,” the authors argue.

“A step change is needed in the way we manage these new risks for societies. Social protection…needs to be considered more strategically.

“The next five years are crucial to act on making social protection a strategic tool for climate risk management.”

Another recent paper jointly authored by Climate Centre recognizes social protection as a key measure, but also argues that a tighter focus is needed to ensure interventions do not generate negative environmental outcomes.

SPACE is a joint initiative of the UK government and its Better Assistance in Crises and Gender Responsive Social Protection programmes, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Pre-Covid, a young girl washes her hands at an Ebola screening point on the Ugandan border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UK Aid has helped vaccinate 250,000 people against Ebola in the region since August 2018. Uganda is an example of a country facing compound humanitarian challenges from pandemics, conflict in neighbouring states, and climate change. A new paper this week details how social protection can help. (Library photo: DFID)