Teresa, 19, holds her baby son in front of her destroyed home in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Dondo, Mozambique. Photo by: IFRC

BARCELONA — In a worst-case scenario, the price of responding to humanitarian needs as a result of climate-related disasters could climb to $20 billion annually by 2030, according to a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, up from a maximum of $12 billion currently being spent.

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance following droughts, floods, and storms could also double to more than 200 million annually, the report suggests.

“The response to the climate crisis can’t simply be just about the climate in abstract.”

— Asad Rehman, executive director, War on Want

It “demonstrates the strain that increasing climate-related disasters could place on aid agencies and donors,” said IFRC President Francesco Rocca in a statement.

The report, published Friday, does not consider how climate change may affect the drivers of conflict, or the impacts of epidemics or heatwaves, meaning the true costs could be higher.

But the right action taken by leaders now could significantly reduce the burden, said Julie Arrighi, a climate expert at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre and one of the contributors to the report.

“If we reach a future of needing that $20 billion, that means we have failed to act on the urgency we’re calling for,” she said, adding that she hopes the latest figures will encourage further financing and scaling up of climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

Rocca added that “by investing in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction, including through efforts to improve early warning and anticipatory humanitarian action, the world can avoid a future marked by escalating suffering and ballooning humanitarian response costs.”

It comes as tens of thousands took to the streets around the world last Friday to protest against the lack of action on climate change. World leaders are meeting today at the United Nations Climate Summit in a bid to secure renewed commitments.

Fast moving wildfire swept through the hills of Ventura County in California on December 5, leaving devastation for miles and residents seeking shelter as they were forced to evacuate the area. Photo by: Dermot Tatlow / American Red Cross

Investment into adaptation was estimated to account for $22 billion of the total $463 billion invested in global climate finance in 2015-16.

While the IFRC report does not offer an estimate on the cost of strengthening systems to avoid needing that $20 billion, the U.N. Environment Programme has estimated that the costs are about two to three times higher than the amount currently provided for through international public finance.

Arrighi recommended that humanitarian organizations, governments, and development partners work with communities to ensure local level action and adaptation, and make more use of forecast-based financing — a system that enables agreements and financing to be put in place ahead of an extreme weather event, to enable early action that can reduce impacts.

Could we deliver aid before a climate disaster strikes?

When a climate disaster hits, the international aid community jumps into action with a costly emergency response — but what if that could be avoided by providing help in the days before, instead of after, a disaster? Devex explores the rise of forecast-based financing.

Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, said of the figures: “We hear the huge pledges that are made [for climate action] but the amount does not reach the communities affected, so the quantum is never enough.”

With many early warning systems already in place, Fuller called for investment into better urban planning, including more resilient infrastructure, the installation of setback zones, improvement of building codes, and building of shelters. For example, in St. Lucia, the CCCCC implemented stronger building codes on a shelter and installed solar panels so that when a hurricane hits and power fails, the shelter can continue to operate.

“Include the financial sector in [urban planning] so that people don’t rebuild in areas that are prone. If we do the proper planning, it will reduce the impacts,” said Fuller, adding that putting in proper preparedness measures is more cost-effective than post-event recovery and aid.

And Asad Rehman, executive director of anti-poverty charity War on Want, warned against looking at adaptation measures in siloes. “You have to look at it more in a holistic sense as it fuels all existing inequalities. Therefore, the response to the climate crisis can’t simply be just about the climate in abstract. It has to recognize what climate change does, whether that means exacerbating inequality and poverty, fueling conflict, or driving displacement,” he said.

About the author

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    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.