Much of the conversation in the lead-up to COP26 has been about predictions and future pledges for more decisive actions: carbon neutral by 2030, net Zero by 2050.
Climate change is a daily reality for millions of people all over the globe.
Ninety percent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, and 70 percent of people displaced within their home countries by conflict and violence, come from countries on the front lines of the climate emergency.
They are susceptible to extreme weather, such as flooding or cyclones, and also to losing their livelihoods due to drought or desertification.
Climate change is increasing poverty and instability from Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Mozambique.
People who have fled once before are forced to flee again by violent outbreaks or extreme weather. Even if peace does return, displaced people can’t go home if their homes have been destroyed by flooding, droughts, or rising sea levels.
We are witnessing a catastrophic convergence of conflict and climate that is driving displacement and making it even more difficult for those already forced from their homes.
Conflicts that have lasted decades and devastated generations are some of the most vulnerable countries in the world.
In Afghanistan – one of the most fragile countries in the world suffering from four decades of conflict – the compounding impacts of climate change are having profound consequences for those least able to cope. The UNHCR has been working in Afghanistan for over 40 years. I have been serving in Afghanistan for many years. The protracted conflict has had an irrevocable effect – forcing people to leave the country but also causing internal displacement.
Many Afghans struggled to feed their families during a prolonged drought, even before recent economic developments brought the economy back under control. Any further deterioration to the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly result in more displacement of people living there, where 665,000 have been forced from their homes already this year.
Many readers from wealthy countries may think this is a distant problem in faraway places. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in August that irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate are being observed in every region. This year, more than 200 people were killed by catastrophic flooding in Europe. Heatwaves and wildfires also ravaged Canada, Siberia and across the Mediterranean.
The world is finally realizing that climate change is a crisis for everyone. However, the stark reality is that those who contributed the least are already the ones suffering the most.
What does this mean to Mozambique? One of the least developed countries in the world, it is grappling with violent attacks that have displaced more than 730,000 people while struggling to recover from a series of cyclones, including Cyclone Idai in March 2019 – one of the worst storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.
The worse the consequences of climate change will be if we delay global action and support for countries like Mozambique so they can mitigate its effects,
Estimates predict that without ambitious climate action, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance due to disasters could increase to 200 million annually by 2050 – twice the current number. What can we do, and what should we do?
UNHCR is present in more than 130 countries, and has 70 years of experience in the protection of the displaced. We use this knowledge and expertise to help countries with limited resources better respond to displacement caused disasters. We are helping people who are already displaced to adapt to climate change.
UNHCR and its partners have been helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to reduce the risk of flooding during monsoon season. They have planted fast-growing trees to stabilize hillsides and provide alternative energy sources for cooking.
We are willing to accelerate our response, but we need your support. Some solutions will be technical and some financial. The majority of the solutions will come from the communities that are at the forefront of the climate crisis. They must be heard at COP as well as elsewhere. They have the ability to apply ancestral solutions based on their generational knowledge of land.
The human consequences of climate change are now. If collective efforts to reduce global warming and drastically reduce emissions fail, UNHCR could be operating in a world that is not yet recognizable.
Younger generations are fighting for their human rights in the future. We are now beyond pledges – we need action and accountability.
Excerpted: ‘Climate change is an emergency for everyone, everywhere’