Raising climate awareness in humanitarian development.
With COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place in Glasgow this November, understanding how to prioritise climate change into your humanitarian work, can seem like a daunting task. From large international charities working across multiple countries, to smaller grassroots NGOs, even if your organisation does not operate in the environmental sector, prioritising climate change is still relevant.
As COP26 unfolds with pledges and plans from world leaders, one thing is clear: everyone must unite in the fight against climate change. From governments to entire industries, to each of us in our personal lives, prioritising environmental concerns is a must if we are to reverse the climate crisis and protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
What is sustainable aid?
The UN DESA Sustainable Development Goals are a good starting place for understanding sustainable living and working. These include ‘End to Poverty’ and ‘Zero Hunger’ as well as key goals around education, healthcare and clean water.
Sustainable aid solutions are defined as humanitarian aid that goes beyond short-term relief from hardship, poverty or crisis but delivers long-term benefit to the environment as well as those in need. This can range from upskilling disadvantaged communities, to delivering solar-powered energy solutions, or replanting crops following natural disaster.
All aid can be adapted to reflect sustainability but doing so is not something which can be achieved overnight. However, beyond the priority of addressing climate change, sustainable aid solutions can also work to relieve suffering long-term and work to eradicate poverty. From an Islamic perspective, sustainable aid can also be classed as Sadaqah Jariyah – that is support and help which has long-lasting and continuous benefit.
For third sector organisations working across multiple international countries, the extreme effects of climate change are all too obvious. Some of the world’s most vulnerable people are those most affected by the climate crisis. From extreme flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, to drought and famine in Yemen, the changes in extreme weather and global warming are having harsh impact on people already struggling in poverty or caught in the grip of war.
Grassroots and community charities delivering aid in the UK may not be seeing the extreme effects of climate change as swiftly as INGOs. However, raising awareness of climate change and keeping it central to charitable work is still extremely important. For charities supporting the homeless, extreme temperatures at night prove a greater risk than ever before to those without adequate shelter. The rise in the cost of fuel and every day living have plunged more people below the poverty line, increasing demand on food bank services and mental health support.
You may, of course, already be working in a sustainable way and have this embedded in the aid that your deliver – whether as emergency response or ongoing support.
Examples of sustainable aid can include:
- Flood defence systems – including building of shelters and homes which are made from recycled materials and can withstand and protect occupants from extreme weather.
- Energy sources – including solar-powered water stations and pumps with longer life-expectancy which use flood water, river water or rainwater and filtrate this to make it safe to drink.
- Agricultural support – giving people back their independence so that they can grow crops, feed themselves and support their community.
- Waste Management – recycling and managing waste and sanitation to improve the local habitat, reduce health risks and enable communities to flourish.
- Local aid – working with community resources to deliver food, health and education with reduced carbon emissions. Considering and evaluating supply chains for more efficient, greener, delivery. Or raising awareness and providing training to local people to improve infrastructure from within such as education and healthcare, thereby reducing climate impact and empowering local communities.
Working climate awareness into your governance can involve looking into your existing policies and strategies for changes that may be made. This could involve working in new ways or with new partners. You can also develop a Climate Change Policy or Global Strategy that includes advocacy and practical delivery plans to account for the changes in climate, the extra needs this creates with vulnerable people and how you will become involved in climate action work.
Communications and marketing
With the discussion of climate change on everyone’s lips, it may seem that you need to push out communications that are in-line with this. But be careful not to use the discussion in a way that undermines your branding, your work or crucially the needs of the people you are serving. Your Communications Strategy should take account of key dates and actions in relation to climate change but by linking this to your core themes and delivery, provide advice and practical measures and talk about the work you are doing to work in a more sustainable way.
Working with your volunteers in a more sustainable fashion may mean looking into some of the tasks that they currently undertake. For example, if you send out volunteers with merchandise to gather donations, ensure that they are aware of your climate awareness strategy and that materials are produced responsibly and are not wasted. You can also consider recruiting volunteers for a green drive campaign such as litter-picking and clear-up in natural areas.
Fundraising events can be the highlight of the calendar but running these in a ‘green’ way can help raise awareness withing your donor community as well as ensure you stay on track with your climate goals. Avoiding materials in your merchandising that are not recyclable, encouraging public transport for attendees and reducing plastic wastage are all some of the ways in which you can do something small but mighty when hosting fundraising events.
Each charity is different, serving different needs in different locations. There therefore is no solution better than another. However by all organisations prioritising climate awareness in policy, strategy and delivery, our collective efforts can ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged people are protected from further hardship and reduce strain on charity resources.
Further reading and information on sustainable aid practice and development can be found at: Support Sustainable Development and Climate Action | United Nations