PIDF CALLS FOR NATIONAL POLICIES THAT SAFEGUARD RIGHTS OF DISPLACED PERSONS AS A RESULT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Every day, humanitarian aid workers stand on the front lines of war and disaster, braving tremendous dangers and difficulties to deliver assistance to those who need it most. In the Pacific, the region has been facing natural disasters; In Vanuatu in 2015 and in Fiji earlier this year, Tropical Cyclones Pam and Winston caused severe devastation affecting households and communities across both countries. Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau were affected by drought due to the long El Nino event.
Hundreds of humanitarian workers continue to work in assisting affected communities and engaged in the ongoing recovery and rebuilding process. 19th August is a good time to recognize the work of humanitarian workers and highlight the spirit of humanity with the theme “One Humanity”.
Human-induced climate change is modifying patterns of extreme weather, including floods, cyclones and droughts. In many cases, climate change is making these hazards more intense, more frequent, less predictable and/or longer lasting. This magnifies the risk of “disasters” everywhere, but especially in those parts of the world where there are already high levels of human vulnerability as is the case amongst the pacific region.
Climate change threatens to set back these limited gains while dramatically increasing both the number of people affected by disasters and the scale of economic damage. Indeed, it is precisely the kinds of hazards exacerbated by climate change (avalanches, extremes of temperature, droughts, floods, landslides, wild fires and wind storms) that account for the vast majority of disaster-related losses.
“Humanitarian actors should be very worried when scientists tell us that during the next 20-30 year period, the intensity, frequency, duration and extent of weather-related hazards will increase in many parts of the world. The Earth is warming. Evidence includes a well-documented increase in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising sea levels. This is triggering a shift in seasons, changes in when/how much rain falls in different parts of the world, and changes in extreme weather,” said PIDF Secretary General François Martel.
He further added that as such, climate change is blurring the distinction between “natural” and “man-made” hazards. Although weather-related hazards, such as droughts and floods, would occur regardless of whether or not we add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, our actions have consequences. When hazards hit areas where people have limited capacity to reduce their level of risk, manage or deal with the aftermath of extreme weather, the results can be truly “disastrous.”
“Vulnerability is largely determined by people’s access to and control over natural, human, social, physical, political and financial capital. This illustrate the implications of climate change for humanitarian assistance so that policymakers can grasp the nature and scale of the challenge we face and humanitarian actors can begin adapting their response strategies to the realities of climate change,” further added Secretary General Martel.
While much of the work around adaptation and redress for loss and damage from climate change has developed through the United Nations climate talks, the World Humanitarian Summit held earlier this year in Istanbul, Turkey, progressed some global mechanisms that are critical for confronting the impacts of climate change.
During the summit, a collection of governments launched the Platform on Disaster Displacement, which aims to address the protection needs of people displaced across borders by disasters and climate change impacts. The launch of the platform still avoids the sticky issue that people displaced across country borders by climate change impacts cannot be considered refugees under international law, and resulting are not provided the same protections as a refugee is.
At this summit, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga called for a UN resolution to put in place a framework to recognise and provide legal protection to people displaced by climate change. It remains to be seen if that call will be taken up.
The PIDF supports the notion that only a multi-pronged approach can counter the powerful challenges posed by climate change. This must include greater investment in disaster preparedness and response.
The humanitarian community has to become better at dealing with both quick and slow-onset disasters. This implies a need for more flexible disaster response capacity since climate change increases the uncertainties surrounding where, when and how disasters unfold.
“We will continue to advocate across the Pacific national policies that safeguard rights of displaced persons as a result of climate change and also advocate for our commitments that were made during the World Humanitarian Summit earlier this year,” said the PIDF Secretary General.
During the next 20-30 year period, the focus should be on areas that are already risk hot spots. The most effective interventions will concentrate on reducing vulnerability, especially of people in marginalized social groups.