• Maarten-van-Aalst

Climate Centre - Red Cross

Viðtal við Maarten van Aalst

31. október 2019

Rauði krossinn tók Maarten van Aalst, yfirmann Climate Centre, Loftslagsmiðstöðvar Rauða krossins, tali. Viðtalið má lesa í heild sinni hér að neðan.

Why did the IFRC found the Climate Centre?

The Climate Centre was established in 2002 jointly by the IFRC and the Netherlands Red Cross, in recognition of the growing awareness across the Red Cross Red Crescent of the humanitarian impacts of climate change – and today that also includes the ICRC by the way. As early as 1999, the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent requested an assessment of the potential humanitarian consequences of climate change, and one of the first activities of the centre was to provide that information to the next conference in 2003. With that awareness came a strong feeling of the need to mount an explicit response to the new reality we all face, and which today, nearly two decades on, dominates the headlines as never before.

What are the main tasks of the Climate Centre?

In the generic sense we are technical advisers, supporting the Red Cross Red Crescent globally at the interface of climate science, policy and practice. We're one of 13 current or planned reference centres hosted by various National Societies and nominated by the IFRC as centres of excellence in their specialist areas. In our case specifically, since 2007 we've been helping to fulfill the ground-breaking commitments on climate made at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that year, including the integration of what's now called ‘climate risk management' into policy and planning. We also support the IFRC in its engagement on climate change in international policy processes, and liaise with the scientific community to ensure we have access to the best information for our humanitarian work, and stimulate research that fills the gaps of knowledge we face in practice.

How does the work of the Climate Centre affect humanitarian aid and development cooperation?

Humanitarian resources are always limited, sometimes severely so; the whole point about climate change is that there are man-made trends in extreme weather and climate impacts that to some extent can be identified and even forecast, even if only in terms of rising uncertainties. In our work in the field on programmes, we aim to connect those two realities, enabling resources to be targeted on areas where impacts are likely to intensify with global warming, whether that means heatwaves in Europe, storm surges in the Caribbean, or record-breaking seasonal rain like we have seen recently in Bangladesh, India and last week in Japan.

What are the biggest challenges the Red Cross is facing in connection with climate disaster?

That's a very difficult question to approach literally – the simple truth is that many of the climate-related challenges we face are huge. Look at the sheer scale of the disasters, triggered by storms and/or rainfall, that recently hit the Bahamas (Hurricane Dorian), Bangladesh (monsoon) and now Japan (Super Typhoon Hagibis). 

It's actually easier to identify what might be the newest challenge we face – what's become known as the ‘conflict-climate nexus' or it's new framed in precisely that way, at least. This is what the name suggests: an often near-intractable mix of climate impacts along with chronic conflict combined with poverty and environmental factors, in places like Somalia and Yemen, for example.

How does the Movement plan on addressing climate disaster in the 2030 Strategy?

The IFRC's Strategy 2030 is expected to be approved by the General Assembly in Geneva in December and it places climate at the head of a list of five major global challenges. It also lists seven transformations, starting with the encouragement of strong local actors, making up a complete platform for change across the Red Cross Red Crescent.

To take two of the most ground-breaking of the seven, Strategy 2030 provides for a more effective integration of digital technology and culture to – as it puts it – ‘enable the organization to harness the collective intelligence of the network and democratize access to information', and the Red Cross Red Crescent network, of course, has no parallel outside the government sphere.

The document also provides for an overhaul of humanitarian fund-raising to include, for example, global cross-border initiatives, as well as opening up the ‘national fortressing' of fund-raising and the adoption of new mechanisms like financial technology and forecast-based financing.


Teresa, 19, holds her baby son in front of her destroyed home in Dondo, Mozambique. IFRC/Corrie Butler

How does the Climate Centre expect people in Europe to be affected by climate disaster in the coming years?

It's going to get hotter – and dangerously so, to be blunt. European heatwaves of the extraordinary kind we saw this year are one of the most intuitively understood climate impacts of all, and they provide one of the strongest climate signals. (Please look at the news archive of our website for stories on the extreme heat in Europe over the past two years and quotable details of the Red Cross Red Crescent and scientific analyses.)

Could you please explain, in layman terms, the methodology of forecast-based financing and forecast-based action, and do you see the methodology playing a big/bigger role in the Movement's work in the future?

 Historically, what we call FbF developed from a long-standing element in Climate Centre work: using climate science across timescales to deal more effectively with the increasing risk of extreme weather. It recognizes that there are often forecasts available of weather- and climate-related hazards – like storms, heatwaves, or droughts – but no humanitarian resources to act before those hazards become disasters. In practice that means assisting the mainstreaming of the ‘early warning, early action' model into Red Cross Red Crescent disaster management worldwide.

A range of pilots of this approach have been running for several years now, with support from the German government and Red Cross, and there have been some encouraging results, in Mongolia with the dzud operation, for example. It has yet to be shown that FbF will work at scale, and – to answer the second part of the question – this very much depends on donors, and I'd say we need to get three ducks in a row first: we all have to see the wisdom and the benefit of acting early in a humanitarian sense; the professionals on the ground have to fine-tune the interventions to minimize the risk of ‘acting in vain', as it's called (no forecast is 100% certain); and the donors have to be ready to accept whatever risk remains.

Finally, on termininology: FbF and FbA, in layman's terms, are essentially the same thing, but simply refer to different points on the operational timeline (the ‘financing' funds the ‘action'). In practice, FbA specifically refers to the expansion of the concept to include a IFRC-managed humanitarian fund that was launched last year as part of the DREF.

How does the Climate Centre currently work with donor National Societies and those in high-risk areas?

In terms of the operations we advise and our thinking in general, I would not draw too sharp a distinction between these two groups of National Societies, especially not in the context of climate change that is a truly global threat. Even the richest, safest countries can be taken by surprise by climate impacts, again as we have just seen in Japan, or thinking back to the French heatwave in 2003 – truly a seminal event in the climate sector, but also the recent European heatwaves, which still claimed thousands of lives.

The major humanitarian programmes we're involved with are of course centred on high-risk and/or vulnerable countries. But even within that context we're typically acting as technical advisers on extreme weather and climate to mixed operational teams of host-country nationals and expatriate delegates, without differentiation between them.

In other important areas – our research output, for example, or the critically important relationships we broker in many countries between the Red Cross Red Crescent and national weather services, or the recently updated Climate Training Kit, or navigating humanitarian input into the IPCC process – a National Society is a National Society.

By the way, our own staff are from almost 25 nationalities, and are based around the world, especially in vulnerable regions. Many come from those regions themselves. Some have come to us from the academic world; others have actually started their careers as volunteers in local branches and built experience on climate risk management in practice.

What vision does the Climate Centre have for its future collaboration with National Societies?

Our overarching mission was – and is – to help the Red Cross Red Crescent and its external partners reduce the impacts of climate change and extreme-weather events on vulnerable people, primarily through support for National Societies. That has not changed; it has just become very much more urgent. Crucially, we now have an international consensus in the form of the 2015 Paris Agreement backing us up.

In the IFRC's Framework for Climate Action Towards 2020, Secretary General Elhadj As Sy put it like this: ‘More than 90 per cent of natural hazards are now regarded as climate-related, and climate change is a key driver of risk…Our role in trying to reduce that risk and address the needs of the most vulnerable people will be still more pivotal over the next few years, while the demand for Red Cross Red Crescent humanitarian services is likely to surge.'

I cannot put it better.

But the vision? To keep pace, with the best technical advice, but also by offering innovation and inspiration to the millions of volunteers at the front line of rising risks.

The National Society Investment Alliance : First Funding Announcement