Climate change shouldn’t be a humanitarian issue BUT IT IS!
Since my brief on climate change as a humanitarian issue, many seasoned and senior humanitarians have argued with me that climate change isn’t a humanitarian issue. Their argument is that climate change is relatively slow moving and that it requires a long-term, strategic, multilateral, multi-actor strategy and plan to address the human suffering that is being caused by climate change. In this they agree that it is all about adaptation—supporting people as they adapt to the ravages of climate change—as compared to mitigation—stopping/slowing human activities that are accelerating climate change. They argue that adaptation requires long-term developmental responses; not rapid/emergency, life saving activities characterized by humanitarian action.
Leaving aside the blur between humanitarian and development, as a humanitarian, I am a realist. And, while the argument about adaptation and the need for ‘development’ approaches are sound conceptually, they ignore the reality. The reality is that governments and other actors have proven incapable of mustering the strategies and plans to address climate change, whether for adaptation or mitigation. Should we give them another 20 to 30 years to try to figure it out, given that they have already squandered the last 20 to 30 years?
In fact, climate change is an emergency. It is only human folly that assigns our own relationship to time in relation to terrestrial change. Boiling frogs come to mind.
I would love if there was a coherent and feasible global strategy in place to address how climate change is impacting people around the world. I would love it if the world’s largest countries were championing this strategy through words, action, and money. But they aren’t and the prospect for them to do so is depressingly slim.
So, while maybe climate change shouldn’t be a humanitarian issue, it is. Typical. Humanitarians are always the ones to have to go in when everything else has failed, when the worst side of human nature sends waves of people to die in wars or to escape with nothing to lands unknown, when seas and mountains come crashing down on the innocent whose governments can’t help, and when the entire globe fails to stop the climate’s mighty and repeated slap-down of the most vulnerable.
Of course climate change is a humanitarian issue!