The IRC calls on world leaders convening at COP26 to make urgent investments in climate resilience and famine prevention amongst the world’s most vulnerable - because the climate crisis is already happening in the places IRC works, driving conflict, displacement and suffering.

In the Sahel, the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), South Asia and the Middle East, IRC teams and their clients are facing the sharp end of the climate crisis, with emergency conditions associated with global warming and more extreme weather events. In Ethiopia, already one of the sites of the devastating 2012 famine in the Horn of Africa and an unprecedented locust outbreak last year, 11 million people are already facing crisis levels of food insecurity as conflict rages in the Tigray region. In the Lake Chad basin, warming at 1.5 times the global rate, increasing drought and resource stress is leaving one in four people food insecure and multiplying the threat of violence. In Afghanistan, where an economic and humanitarian crisis is worsening nearly two months after the shift to Taliban control, 95% of Afghans are without sufficient food, exacerbated by a drought expected to continue into 2022. 

Overall, 41 million people worldwide are on the brink of famine, only set to increase with higher temperatures, desertification, and extreme weather events. With two-thirds of those living in poverty working in agriculture, economic deprivation and negative coping strategies will only increase, with women and girls set to suffer most. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are likely to exacerbate the spread of vector-borne diseases and the fragility of healthcare systems in developing nations. Strain on natural resources, basic services and livelihoods in turn drives conflict and fragility: 60% of the 20 countries identified as the most vulnerable to climate change are affected by armed conflict - which only reduces their mitigation ability. Forced displacement, already at record highs in 2021, will only increase: according to the World Bank, without immediate and concerted action, climate change could force over 200 million people worldwide into internal displacement alone by 2050. Overall, climate change impacts are estimated to contribute to more than 200 million people in need of international humanitarian assistance each year.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said: “It is way past time for global leaders to step up. The climate crisis is here - and united global leadership is needed to meet it. The tests are two fold: stepping up to prevent the catastrophic breach of the 1.5 degrees average rise in temperature, and stepping up to help the most at-risk communities adapt to the climate change that is already happening.  

“The refugee crisis, the climate crisis, COVID-19, soaring food prices all speak clearly to a gross mismanagement of the global commons- and the world’s most vulnerable are set to bear the brunt. While the existential threat posed by global warming jeopardizes us all, it is spread unevenly. COP26 represents an urgent call to stymie the worst impacts of climate change while making bold plans to radically reduce global emissions.

“Climate finance, including adaptation, to least-developed countries currently stands at $15 billion per year- out of $80 billion mobilized by developed countries to date, short of the $100 billion goal set for 2020. This is not nearly enough for countries most vulnerable to climate change, also grappling with humanitarian crises and the compound economic impact of COVID-19. So swathes of the global population are essentially left defenseless against a problem they did not cause. Every year that goes by without action to address this gap means more agony piled onto those who already have the least.”

It is also critical that there is sufficient funding for preparedness and response to famine and food crises, including early warning mechanisms and anticipatory action, with a focus on support to livelihoods before the onset of a crisis. The economic case for resilience programming and early intervention is especially compelling: a USAID study across the Horn of Africa over a 15-year period revealed that every $1 spent on resilience programming offset three times as much in aid costs. To have maximum impact in fragile and conflict settings, multi-year investments should be delivered directly to frontline responders alert to the needs of crisis-affected communities.   

The IRC is at the forefront of these necessary efforts in over 20 countries. In Afghanistan, IRC has introduced community-led, climate-smart agriculture programming to help Afghans nurture sustainable livelihoods and climate-adapted crops. In northeast Nigeria, IRC has partnered with Google to develop a climate risk data platform available to community members which delivers cash payments to the most vulnerable when crisis indicators are triggered. In the Central African Republic, IRC is working with impoverished farmers to plant thousands of trees and diversified crops, reversing land degradation and helping foster climate-smart agriculture, with increases in income by as much as 1000%.