IFRC makes climate action its top priority

The aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. Photo by: Denis Onyodi / IFRC / CC BY-NC

BARCELONA — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is made up of 192 national societies and focuses on humanitarian action, released a 2030 strategy last week that put the climate at the front and center of every program and appeal.

Climate change tops a list of five global challenges that IFRC says must be addressed in the coming decade. The other challenges included are crises and disasters; health; migration and identity; and values, power, and inclusion.

“Climate change is an existential threat that is already completely altering the work we do and the lives of the people we support.”

— Francesco Rocca, president, IFRC

“The message from our members and from our millions of volunteers couldn’t be clearer: Climate change is an existential threat that is already completely altering the work we do and the lives of the people we support,” IFRC President Francesco Rocca said at the federation’s 22nd general assembly in Geneva.

The IFRC announcement came as negotiators gathered in Madrid for two weeks of discussions among governments, environmental organizations, and scientists at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

According to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 7 million people were newly displaced in the first half of 2019, mostly due to storms and floods. In a worst-case scenario, IFRC says 200 million people per year could need humanitarian assistance as a result of climate-related disasters and climate change’s socioeconomic impact by 2050.

International humanitarian relief groups like IFRC are imperative in crises and will become even more important as the effects of climate change increase in intensity and frequency, said Suzanne Stanley, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, a nongovernmental organization that runs environmental education and advocacy programs aiming to safeguard Jamaica from the effects of climate change.

“The proactive approach being taken by the Red Cross in recognizing this is commendable, and we hope that other similar groups and governments recognize the importance of increasing their capacity to deal with the impending disasters which are to come," she said.

In practice, IFRC’s move to prioritize climate will mean further focus on adaptation, resilience, and early warning systems within each of its programs, said Tommaso Della Longa, senior communications adviser at IFRC. He noted that the organization has already been taking such steps in recent years.

The new strategy outlines a plan to shift decision-making to a more local level, as national societies will also need to be strengthened so they can better respond to disasters within their own contexts, Rocca said.

This comes as the national societies in Bhutan and the Marshall Islands — two countries experiencing extreme effects of global warming — were admitted into the federation as full members.

Heavy investment in methods that help communities adapt will also need to be made, Rocca added. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates adaptation costs for low- and middle-income countries at between $70 billion and $100 billion annually. However, the U.N. Environment Programme says adaptation will cost two to three times more.

The challenge will be in moving at a quicker speed in order to adapt to emerging needs and events, Della Longa said. The IFRC strategy highlights epidemics and migration as other pressing issues for the coming decade.

About the author

  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.