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Press Release

IRC: Without urgent action from the UK and world leaders at COP26, the world’s most vulnerable will pay the highest cost of warming climate

The IRC calls on the UK government and 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. This comes in the context of the UK’s recent drastic cuts to its foreign aid budget - confirmed by the Chancellor in the Budget on Wednesday - which will heavily impact the communities that are the most affected by the climate crisis, only worsening the impact of global warming. 

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 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. This is exacerbated by a drought expected to continue into 2022. 

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.

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. Women and girls are set to suffer most.

Without immediate and concerted action, climate change could force over 200 million people worldwide into internal displacement alone by 2050, according to the World Bank. Forced displacement, already at record highs in 2021, will only increase. Overall, climate change impacts are estimated to contribute to more than 200 million people in need of international humanitarian assistance each year.

Yet, the UK government has drastically cut its foreign aid budget, highlighting the gap between the rhetoric of a government hosting an international climate conference, and the reality of its actions when it comes to protecting those suffering the most from it through funding.  

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said: “The UK is convening world leaders at a time of unprecedented global need. 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 vulnerable communities adapt to the climate change that is already happening.  

“Yet, the UK has decided to significantly cut its aid towards the countries who need it the most, and that are the most impacted by the climate crisis. I am particularly concerned for those vulnerable communities in conflict-affected states, who are getting the sharp end of global warming, and seeing programmes to help them terminated as a result of the aid cuts by the UK. 

“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 jeopardises 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 - out of $80 billion mobilised by developed countries to date, short of the $100 billion goal set for this year. This is a trend in the right direction but 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.” 

During COP26 negotiations in Glasgow this week, Governments must commit to increasing climate funding with at least 50% going to adaptation, including support for climate resilient and gender sensitive food systems. Countries like the UK, who have been the largest contributors to climate change, should agree on a clear delivery plan for adaptation funding that prioritises allocations to fragile and conflict-affected contexts, who have contributed least, but suffer the most acute impacts of the climate crisis.  Countries should also accelerate the implementation of the Gender Action Plan which was agreed at the previous COP25, ensuring funding is gender-just and reaches grassroots women-led and women rights organisations. 

It is also critical that there is sufficient humanitarian funding for preparedness and response to famine and food crises, including through direct cash assistance for people in  need. 

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%.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.