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5 Ways Climate Change Will Affect Every NGO

Climate change has lingered on the margins of NGO discussions for the past two decades. Unlike other “mainstreamed” risks, donors have not mandated that humanitarian and development organisations address climate change as a programmatic risk, nor have most organisations built robust frameworks for analysing and mitigating their own contributions to climate change.

With the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, UK in early November, this is rapidly changing. The UK government has already stated that their partner organisations must publicly and practically commit to assisting the UK in meeting its net zero target by 2050. The UK government has also mandated a carbon reduction plan for any organisations bidding on contracts valued at more than £5 million per year on September 30, 2021.

As climate change risk becomes an increasing priority, every NGO should understand and integrate it into its ordinary risk practises. But how do you do it?

First, we must recognise what climate change is and how NGOs contribute to it. Understanding this will help us devise solutions to manage the risk. This short, user-friendly video explains what climate change is, why it is occurring, and, most importantly, what we can do about it. Carbon reduction is the primary mitigation activity. NGOs that recognise climate change as a serious threat and want to help build climate resilience are actively reducing their carbon footprints.

That is not enough, though. As part of our efforts to reduce our collective carbon footprint and increase our ability to cope with the implications of climate change, we must also actively plan for the consequences of climate change in our everyday activities. The remainder of this article focuses on climate security, which must be well understood by individuals in charge of risk management in businesses.

Climate Security is

“… security risks induced, directly or indirectly, by changes in climate patterns. It is a concept that summons the idea that climate-related change amplifies existing risks in society that endangers the security of humans, ecosystems, economy, infrastructure and societies.”

“… security risks induced, directly or indirectly, by changes in climate patterns. It is a concept that summons the idea that climate-related change amplifies existing risks in society that endangers the security of humans, ecosystems, economy, infrastructure and societies.”

Humanitarian and development NGOs have a good understanding of conflict, disasters and poverty. We are dedicated to reducing suffering and increasing resilience in communities which face these struggles every day.

Climate change is already making our job more complex and difficult. The Alan Turing Institute has created a fantastic interactive graphic that depicts the complexities and interdependence of climate change and human security. The need for climate security is the reason why NATO, the U.S. Army and most security organisations globally are investing heavily in preparing for the impacts of climate change.

To understand the importance of climate security, we must first understand what is expected to happen as climate change continues or accelerates. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its 6th Assessment Report, which provides an update on how quickly the world's climate is changing and what can be expected. It makes for depressing reading. The earth is warming faster than expected, and possibly too quickly to stop. Many of the extreme weather crises to which NGOs are responding are caused by humans and are likely to worsen.

What does this mean for humanitarian and development NGOs and how we will operate in the future?

1. We must help solve the problem

There will be specific and immediate changes to our ways of operating as part of developing Carbon Reduction Plans and evaluating and changing the NGO's carbon footprint. COVID demonstrated that humanitarian and development work can be carried out without the need for personnel to travel all over the world. The days of flying from London to Papua New Guinea for a two-day health conference should be over. Travel modes that rely solely on fossil fuels, such as most planes and cars, will be phased out or replaced with modes that are less reliant on fossil fuels.

Reduced international travel has had an impact on airlines and flight schedules. It is unknown whether they will ever return to pre-COVID levels. This means that having a variety of commercial flight options available for things like evacuations is likely to be a thing of the past.

In summary, there will be few aspects of our operations that are not analysed and adjusted in light of their carbon impact, including our reliance on in-person training, employee commuting, overseas travel, and upstream and downstream supply chains.

2. Climate change is a threat multiplier

Climate change is referred to as a "threat multiplier" in climate security. This means that the events to which humanitarian and development organisations respond – poverty, conflict, disease, natural disaster – will be exacerbated or increased because of climate change. Climate-related disasters, such as droughts and floods, can be used by anti-state groups to incite radicalization and violent conflict. While it may be difficult to attribute specific security and natural disasters entirely to climate change, we do know that climate change is now, and will increasingly become, a variable in almost all future responses. We will not ignore it in our risk assessments for our work anymore than we would now ignore the threat of terrorism or political insecurity.

3. Different countries will be affected differently by climate change

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) already have a presence in areas that will be harder hit by, or less resilient to, climate change. This Time Magazine article explains how climate change will take place in locations such as Nigeria, Haiti, Yemen, the Philippines, Kiribati and the United Arab Emirates. In the next 3-5 years, there is tremendous opportunity to accelerate, further fund and champion the localisation agenda to multiply the ongoing efforts.

Those developing predictive models for how climate change will affect a country consider both the impact of climate change and the resilience of the country or region. This includes the effects on global food chains, water security, and resilience to climate shocks. Take a look at some of these maps to learn more. While some countries may be able to manage climate change and execute climate resilience strategies, no aspect of our global society will be completely unaffected.

4. Different climate-related emergency responses

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and cyclones, are common emergency response environments. While these will become more frequent and severe, new disasters such as lethal heat events or mass migration due to water scarcity will also become more common. Working in extreme heat will pose a new threat to humanitarian workers, necessitating new training, risk management, and operational methods. NGOs must become as acquainted with the negotiating and management of natural resources as they are in negotiating access or negotiating with armed actors.

5. Competition for Funding / Resources

While climate related stressors and threats increase the number and scale of responses required, economies will be affected so there will be fewer resources to do so. Even in countries where climate change is expected to have less of an impact, there will be increased demand and competition for government spending to control costs – health, food, and water – and successfully manage climate impact ‘at home’. This means that there will be less money available for foreign aid and humanitarian interventions. We may be less prepared to respond to humanitarian disasters and emergencies at a time when we are increasingly eager to do so.

While these five ways in which all NGOs will be affected by climate change may be difficult, our sector has demonstrated that it can learn, grow, and adapt to meet all types of challenges. We know that as organisations flex and change to adapt to climate change, most will not look the same as they do now, with larger, Northern or Western-based headquarters in North American or European capitals and a heavy reliance on international travel and foreign aid. Being forced to change can either be viewed as a hardship or as a necessary and positive evolution in the humanitarian and development sector. Our flexibility and willingness to change is not only good for the sector but also for the planet.

Want to learn more? We provide risk advisory services for organisations wanting to reduce their carbon footprint: Check out our course for all staff in the social sector on Achieving Carbon Reduction.


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