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IPCC's humanitarian messages: Now it's up to all of us

Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) - Switzerland - Sun, 30 Mar 2014 16:49 GMT
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Yokohama, Japan, 30 March 2014

It’s now 4.15am on Sunday morning in the Pacifico international conference centre, Yokahama, Japan. About 500 delegates have spent the past five days going through the “Summary for Policy Makers” of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), focusing on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change. Together with Yoshiteru Tsuji of Japanese Red Cross Society, I’m here representing the IFRC; I’m also a lead author of the IPCC report.

This week is actually the culmination of several years’ hard work. An international author team has prepared a 2000-page assessment based on over 12,000 scientific papers and other documents. The report has been through several rounds of review – yielding tens of thousands of comments that have been addressed one by one. This week, government delegates have been going through the Summary for Policy Makers line by line, proposing changes to make it sharper, while the author team ensures that the summary remains consistent with the underlying chapters. After that intense approval process, the documentbecomes the undisputed basis for international negotiations about climate change and is used for the national climate policy of many countries.

Therefore, in a few hours time, we’ll have a very exciting report, with the best, government-endorsed, scientific knowledge on climate risks and how to handle them. The main implications for the Red Cross Red Crescent are as follows:

1)    Risks have already increased due to climate change, and will continue to rise for several decades to come (even if we drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions today). A recent example is the storm surge of typhoon Haiyan (which was bigger due to sea level rise).

2)    We can largely handle those rising risks, but we have to do more to anticipate and reduce the risks rather than just respond after impacts have occurred. This includes our own work, but also our dialogues with others who need to do more to reduce risks, including governments.

3)    For the second half of this century, we face a bigger choice – a choice that needs to be made now. If we fail to cut global greenhouse gas emissions soon and drastically, we will suffer greater and greater risks, with potentially severe humanitarian consequences.

It’s now 4.30am and we’ll surely need several more hours to complete the negotiations on the Summary for Policy Makers. But I’m wide awake, and excited about the prospect of taking this report to the next stage.

Because that next stage is critical. From here on it’s up to all of us: to take action ourselves, but also to spread the word, and raise awareness about these humanitarian implications. And of course we cannot just regurgitate the technical language of the IPCC. Instead, we should be telling stories, and sometimes even playing “serious games” that let people experience the implications of changing risks. A just-launched IFRC training course on climate change will help volunteers and staff of all National Societies to familiarize themselves with the issue, and become the strong humanitarian voices that we desperately need to address the rising risks. 

[For more about the IPCC report, see http://www.climatecentre.org/site/working-group-ii]

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