Environment News Service (ENS)

Humanitarian Groups Tackle the Ravages of Climate Change

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

PORTLAND, Oregon, September 26, 2007 (ENS) - The recent number and intensity of climate-related natural disasters worldwide has seized the attention of relief and development groups and they are taking action to help those most affected cope with the effects of climate change - severe hurricanes, droughts, floods, deforestation, and the hunger and thirst that follow.

The humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps today announced that it will work to help vulnerable populations around the world deal with the effects of global warming. Mercy Corps staff say the stakes are high as decades of development work could quickly be undone by emerging climate-related problems.

'Climate change has become the most serious threat to communities where we work, and we believe that we have a humanitarian imperative to address this problem,' says Jim Jarvie, Mercy Corps director of climate change, environment and natural resources.

'Climate change is a 24/7 natural disaster and Mercy Corps is adjusting our programs and initiating efforts to help communities prepare and adapt,' Jarvie said from the group's headquarters in Portland.

The initiative will include projects to boost communities' efforts to mitigate and adapt to the increasing severity and frequency of floods, droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

'We are also trying to engage with donors interested in finding and implementing large-scale strategic solution to such risks,' says Jarvie. 'Mercy Corps is a small part of the solution, but with the right partners we can try to be pivotal.'

The agency has partnered with the University of Edinburgh to identify ways vulnerable populations can adapt to climate change and how Mercy Corps can help with those efforts.

Mercy Corps has also placed a priority on mitigating its own impact on the environment by measuring its carbon footprint and committing to becoming carbon neutral. The agency recently issued its footprint study along with a list of the top 10 steps staff can take to reduce carbon usage.

The carbon footprint study was conducted in the UK by the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management, which measured on-site energy consumption, owned vehicles, travel, office deliveries, and waste disposal in Mercy Corps' field and international headquarters offices.

The international aid agency Oxfam is concerned that climate change is 'increasing poverty and vulnerability among poor people who are least responsible for the problem and least able to bear its effects.' The changes needed to tackle the causes and effects of climate change must be both adequate and fair to the world's poorest people, the group said Monday.

Greg Puley, head of Oxfam's New York office, said the high level climate talks this week at the United Nations are signficant because 'all countries are at the table, including developing countries that are in the front-line of climate change.'

'Rich countries must lead the way for a global binding deal at the UN on emissions reductions. They can build trust by providing the kind of support that the world's poorest people need to prepare for the damaging impacts of climate change, at least $50 billion a year,' Puley said.

There is widespread scientific consensus that the ramifications of global warming reaching above 2° Celsius will be catastrophic, particularly for poorer countries, Puley said, urging the rich countries of the world to make sharp and binding reductions in emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and also to help ease the lives of people in developing countries who must live with the consequences of global warming.

'Rich countries have come up extremely short in providing finance for adaptation, despite being most responsible for the problem. Current pledges are less than one percent of what's needed. They could start to set that right and make adaptation a central part of a future deal,' he said.

The aid agency CARE International in April joined the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance to help mitigate climate change by supporting multiple-benefit forestry projects.

Tropical deforestation is responsible for almost a quarter of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions - twice the amount coming from all the world's cars and trucks.

The Alliance spearheaded the development of the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity, CCB, Standards that allow private companies, multi-lateral funding organizations, and government agencies to screen land-based carbon projects and identify those representing the highest-value and least-risk investments.

Forestry projects using the CCB Standards are helping to mitigate this impact by reducing carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions through forest conservation activities and by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere through forest restoration activities.

'The CCB Standards are a unique tool for helping project developers realize the ambitious goal of simultaneously mitigating climate change, reducing poverty and conserving biodiversity,' said Dr. Charles Ehrhart, coordinator of the Poverty-Climate Change Initiative for CARE International.

'In addition,' said Ehrhart, 'the CCB Standards help the buyers of carbon credits know what they are getting - and these assurances are critical to ensuring market health.'

The World Council of Churches says it has been working on climate change 'ever since 1990, when climate change was identified by the scientific community as one of the most threatening social and ecological issues of our times, affecting Creation as a whole.'

In the ecumenical understanding, the WCC says in a 2006 policy book on climate change, 'human-induced climate change is being precipitated primarily by the high consumption lifestyles of the richer industrialized nations and wealthy elites throughout the world while the consequences will be experienced disproportionately by impoverished nations, low-lying island states, and future generations.'

'Climate change is thus a matter of international and intergenerational justice.'

The WCC says it 'might intensify its promotion of a shift in energy, industrial and transportation policies particularly in countries with high per-capita consumption, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 80 percent.'

The WCC book suggests the creation of an international ecumenical climate fund, 'based on payment by church members for their excess CO2 emissions (above equitable and sustainable levels) and to be used for supporting sustainable development and adaptation in the global South and the shift towards renewable energy in both North and South.'

'The urgency of the threat of climate change requires our generation to take immediate action and go beyond simple declarations and statements. New alternative models of life are called for,' the WCC says.

'We challenge all people to move towards a style of life that derives its quality from the attentive enjoyment of nature and human relationships, from mutual care, dependence, trust and solidarity instead of the illusions of individual autonomy and material wealth, from spirituality and feelings of community, connectedness and intimacy instead of one-dimensional self-centredness.'

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