INTERVIEW: 'When climate change and conflict mix, the results are devastating', says ICRC director-general

Ashraf Amin , Wednesday 16 Nov 2022

Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Robert Mardini spoke to Ahram Online about the importance of revising adaptation and mitigation mechanisms to prioritise funding for the most vulnerable and least developed countries.

Robert Mardini (on the right) speaking with Ahram Online representative Ashraf Amin in Sharm El-Sheikh


Mardini also highlighted how climate change can indirectly increase the risk of conflict. He also stressed the urgency of finding a mechanism for implementing mitigation and adaptation projects in countries suffering from armed conflict to reduce human suffering and provide decent access to clean water, food and energy.

AO: Why is the ICRC participating in COP27?

Robert Mardini: Today's climate crises are affecting everyone. When we look at our colleagues across the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, 21,000 women and men working and 14 million volunteers in more than100 countries, all of them witness the climate impacts in their day-to-day work. For the ICRC, our mandate is always on armed conflict countries. The realisation is that the people living in the 25 armed conflict countries are the most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to climate crises simply because of the impacts of conflict on societies, economies, essential services, and infrastructure. This is why our call today at COP27, is, firstly, that parties acknowledge that countries enduring conflict are highly vulnerable to climate risks due to their limited adaptive capacity. Secondly, Parties should live up to the commitment to bolster climate action in countries identified by the UNFCCC as particularly vulnerable to climate change by scaling up support to countries enduring conflict. Thirdly, they should ensure that this action is adequately supported by fit-for-purpose climate finance.

AO: Would you give us examples of climate crisis in armed conflict countries?

RM: In Africa and the Middle East, there are several countries that are enduring the double burden of climate change and conflict. For example, the suffering of millions of people in the wider Sahel region is rooted in the deadly combination of conflict and the climate crisis. Caught between advancing deserts, erratic weather and violence, entire communities are being forced to leave their homes, livestock and livelihoods behind. Violence has forced 4.5 million out of their homes in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, a 200 percent increase in the past two years. With 80 percent of the population of the Sahel relying on agriculture to survive, being displaced means they lose access to their lands and their livestock. In Somalia, people have suffered through an erratic cycle of droughts and floods in recent years, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation further complicated by three decades of armed conflict.

In Syria, 11 years of crisis, in addition to climate change, have exhausted the agricultural sector, which was the most important economic sector in the pre-war period. Today the agricultural sector’s productivity has been cut by 50 percent compared to 2010. Food security of about 12.4 million Syrians is threatened as a result of the continuation of the crisis and the intensification of the economic crisis, but also the direct repercussions of climate change such as torrential rains, declining seasonal rains and rising temperatures.

AO: Is the climate crises leading to armed conflicts?

RM: Climate change does not directly cause armed conflict, but that it may indirectly increase the risk of conflict by exacerbating existing social, economic and environmental factors. For example, when cattle herders and agricultural farmers are pushed to share diminishing resources due to a changing climate, this can stir tensions in places that lack strong governance and inclusive institutions.

We see climate change as a threat multiplier, it can worsen the disruption caused by conflict and inflame existing social, economic and environmental risks which could lead to conflict. The foundations of societies are thrown into disarray by conflict; everything from the economy to the environment, healthcare infrastructure and social cohesion is uprooted. Within this context, the capacity of people to cope with any changes – including those resulting from a changing climate – is limited. When climate change and conflict mix, the results are devastating.

AO: How can climate projects be implemented in territories that are not under state control?

RM: In order to make sure climate finance reaches the most vulnerable, including in areas not under state control, we suggest to review how the financing mechanisms are governed to ensure that risk aversity does not exclude millions of people from receiving much-needed support and consider introducing specialised funding windows that allow for differentiated programming that reaches the most vulnerable and remote communities; provide the financing mechanisms with guidance on policies and regulations that allow reasonable flexibility to enable action in fragile and conflict-affected settings; and enable the provision of climate adaptation finance at multiple scales to encourage both large- and small-scale projects that address context-specific needs. In conflict settings, enable delivery by diverse partners by simplifying the processes for receiving funds and by providing support to actors with the access, mandate, and expertise to operate in conflict-affected settings to navigate existing opportunities to access finance.

AO: Will that not create a third party in the conflict territories and aggravate the situation?

RM: From a purely humanitarian perspective, the fact is that in these settings affected by conflict and climate change, there are no critical services in the first place. This has to be the starting point on how to fulfil the basic needs of public health, clean water and dignified livelihood. It is about injecting actors and a catalytic dynamic for humanitarian services and better support for local authorities in order to unleash the potential of this additional adaptation fund that can come the way to those communities.

AO: What is your message to the COP negotiators with respect to the humanitarian and climate risks you are witnessing?

RM: Member states need to keep in mind that this is an urgent issue. It is high time to get their act together and the key word is acceleration to make sure that climate action increases and climate finance serves the most affected around the planet.

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