‘A world in crisis: climate breakdown, conflict and us’. A lecture delivered by Commissioner Janez Lenarčič at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University – World


Boston, 19 September 2023

Expensive colleagues, girls and gents,

There are roughly 20 individuals on this room. If we represented the inhabitants of Sudan, 8 of us would want humanitarian help. And if we represented Haiti, it might be 10 of us. If we have been Afghanistan, it might be 15 of us. Three quarters of this room.

I need to illustrate this clear development: that vast numbers of individuals internationally are struggling. And these numbers are rising.

That is occurring for varied causes – together with the local weather disaster. I’ve come right here from Europe. The place, in Greece, we have now simply had the biggest wildfires ever recorded on the European continent, occurring within the Athens area. 100,000 hectares burnt. After which the identical nation, a couple of days later, was struck by the worst floods anybody can keep in mind. The setting of recent information like this has change into an annual prevalence.

I do know you right here in North America have additionally suffered ever bigger wildfires and floods. Yearly, wherever we glance, an increasing number of individuals’s lives are being upturned by excessive climate occasions.

To some these disasters could seem distant, particularly from right here within the leafy streets of Harvard College. However yearly they’re getting nearer; extra frequent; extra violent. We’re all affected by what’s going on.

However we have now to broaden our look past this summer time of emergencies. After we take a look at long-term developments, we will see the place we’re headed. We face a harmful mixture of local weather breakdown and battle. And we might be on the highway to destruction if we keep on this route.

What does that imply in sensible phrases? There are over 360 million individuals in the present day worldwide who’re in want of humanitarian help. That is the best determine ever.

If this constituted a rustic, it might be the third largest nation on this planet. Larger than america. And the inhabitants of this non-country will proceed to develop.

In my time with you in the present day, I need to first take a look at the worldwide disaster overview and what this implies for us. Then I want to dwell on the twin engines of those crises: battle and local weather breakdown. And at last, I’ll define three clear actions we should take to keep away from the worst of this future.

So first: let us take a look at the worldwide net of crises. For this goal, my colleagues have ready a map. Irrespective of the place you might be on this map, you might be affected ultimately by local weather breakdown.

From this attitude, we will clearly see the disaster factors spreading internationally. The chances of the populations which are most affected by local weather breakdown give a snapshot of world struggling globally. The pie charts present the acute climate occasions which are driving the crises in these nations.
If we take a look at the following map, we added among the important excessive climate occasions of the final yr. We see that no continent can escape disasters. Heatwaves throughout Europe. Storms and wildfires throughout the USA. Droughts in Africa. Floods in Asia. And so forth.

Then we add the battle. Which additional deepens world disaster. This usually overlaps with areas which are experiencing excessive local weather breakdown.

When taken all collectively, our world map is a chaos of battle and local weather emergency. The place disasters are on the rise. The variety of individuals in want grows yearly. And the funding required to reply to emergencies and to maintain these individuals alive retains growing. In the present day, the funding required for world humanitarian help is eight occasions larger than within the millennium.

That is our actuality. Local weather breakdown and battle are frequent drivers of disaster that threaten us all. Usually these elements are instantly linked, akin to growing violence breaking out over dwindling pure sources.

The poet Stanley Kunitz, who attended this college practically a century in the past, may have been describing about in the present day’s humanitarian scenario when he wrote: “The universe is a steady net. Contact it at any level and the entire net quivers.”

A great illustration of that’s in the present day’s Russian aggression towards Ukraine. Which has affected power and meals costs all over the world. This implies for individuals all over the place that we’ll pay extra for power and meals. This additionally implies that essentially the most susceptible will go hungry and not be capable to afford meals. So, this struggle of aggression has a direct affect on essentially the most susceptible components of the world the place persons are going hungry. To not discuss Russian makes an attempt to forestall or restrict exports of Ukrainian meals merchandise.

I’ve been EU Commissioner for Disaster Administration for 4 years. In these 4 years on this place I’ve seen the scenario develop steadily extra determined. Our work is turning into extra obligatory and tougher with each passing yr, as a result of conflicts that proliferate and the local weather disaster that fuels worldwide humanitarian wants.

Tomorrow, I might be in New York on the UN Normal Meeting session. The place we’ll take inventory of the worldwide scenario and talk about what may be executed. As a society we have already got the data, the power and the sources to sort out these crises – however so many nations usually are not doing that. They continue to be prior to now, as an alternative of getting ready for the long run.

The very first thing that we have to do is to match humanitarian help – emergency help meant to alleviate struggling and save lives – with growth and peace efforts so as to avert better world disaster. We have now to do that urgently as a result of the hole between humanitarian wants and the sources out there is rising. This summer time, it exceeded 43 billion US {dollars}. It’s a big sum – however nonetheless lower than the revenue made by one fossil gas large, Exxon Mobil, final yr alone.

There are nations working to shut this hole. America, which is the one greatest world humanitarian donor. And Europe and its member states, the second greatest world humanitarian donor. However extra motion is urgently wanted by extra nations. I want to notice right here that of the 5 everlasting members of the UN Safety Council – the physique that underneath the UN Constitution bears the first accountability for worldwide peace and safety and has evidently failed as a result of battle stays one of many key drivers of humanitarian want – of those 5 everlasting members, solely three seem within the prime ten world donors of humanitarian help.

I consider that humanitarian help is a worldwide accountability that must be shared equitably. Particularly, all those that aspire to play a worldwide function – these gathered within the G20 – ought to do higher.

One direct and extra equitable means to do that can be for every nation to allocate a share of Gross Nationwide Earnings. Final December, Spain dedicated itself to allocating not less than 0.07% of its Gross Nationwide Earnings to humanitarian help. This goal was then taken by the whole EU membership as a goal to which everybody ought to aspire. It isn’t a tough, legally binding goal however a mushy goal. However a significant one nonetheless. And we do hope that others comply with this ambition.

In the mean time, it’s only a handful of nations that at the moment meet this goal: america, 4 of the EU member states, and some different nations.

Extra funding will even be wanted in relation to local weather breakdown. However little or no of that funding goes to those that are most susceptible. This yr, 32 of the nations most susceptible to the local weather disaster acquired lower than 1 greenback per particular person in local weather change adaptation and catastrophe danger discount funding. Think about in case your world fell aside, and you bought given one greenback to repair it.

So, once we take a look at these two key drivers of humanitarian disaster, battle continues to be the largest driver. 80% of humanitarian disaster is because of battle. We have now three varieties of battle. Protracted conflicts which have been with us for a few years. Like Syria and Yemen. Then we have now these which are managed however abruptly erupt once more: like Sudan and Russian aggression in Ukraine. Then we have now new conflicts, the place the development goes in an undesired route. In an increasing number of locations, we see violence pushing individuals into ever extra determined and harmful conditions.

I repeat right here: there’s a physique on this world that bears major accountability for worldwide peace and safety. It’s evidently not doing its job very successfully. Which isn’t stunning, if one in all its members is grossly violating basic rules of the UN Constitution and worldwide legislation by attacking a neighbouring nation with the intention to annex it.
So, we’re not doing effectively on the battle entrance – and neither are we doing effectively on the local weather entrance. As I mentioned, excessive climate occasions have now change into the norm. The principles governing climate are actually damaged. We’re in unknown territory. We do not know what’s going to hit us, and when and the place we’ll encounter wildfires or flooding. However we all know these items can hit anyplace at any time. That is the brand new period during which we have now to reside.

If we do not act, we’re sure to see the world in a a lot worse form. It’s estimated that, within the coming years if nothing is finished, the frequency of pure disasters will enhance by 40%. This alone may end in 200 million individuals all over the world needing world help. Think about: if all battle stopped tomorrow, we’d nonetheless be heading in the direction of a world the place a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of persons are in want of humanitarian help as a result of local weather breakdown.

In fact, battle and local weather usually are not the one drivers of disaster. We additionally had the coronavirus pandemic, which had a devastating impact all over the world and has particularly affected negatively essentially the most susceptible components of the globe: together with many African nations the place job losses have been everlasting and communities have been destroyed.

So, how can we cut back this discrepancy between ever rising humanitarian wants and sources out there? There are 3 ways. One is to extend the funding. We have now mentioned this. Everybody ought to assume their fair proportion of their accountability. The second means is to make use of the out there funding extra successfully. And the third means is to cut back humanitarian wants.

However on each key fronts, battle and local weather disaster, we’re not doing effectively.

So, to conclude, there are three actions we have to pursue. These are all linked, and all obligatory for a safer future.
The primary motion is local weather motion. The second motion is best cooperation on a worldwide scale. And the third motion is adaptation.

On local weather motion: in fact, we have now to sort out the issue at its root trigger. We should stop the local weather disaster worsening by way of a worldwide transition to local weather impartial applied sciences. We have been heartened when the US adopted the Inflation Reduciton Act. Alongside the EU Inexperienced Deal, collectively we’re actually making a distinction.

In fact, this won’t be sufficient if simply the US and the EU act. Others must do their half. And I am hoping it will occur on the upcoming COP28 convention.

That is about pooling sources to reply to varied disasters. As a result of even when we cease all emissions in the present day, the online of destruction is already there.

How can we strategy this from a European perspective?

Greater than twenty years in the past, we established one thing referred to as the Union Civil Safety Mechanism. As a result of we realised that, while the response to pure and artifical disasters is a nationwide competence of EU member states and European Fee solely has a supporting function, that that there could also be instances when member states are overwhelmed by pure disasters. And that’s the reason this mechanism was created.

When one member state asks for help, others come to assist. And this isn’t solely open to member states, but additionally to any nation on this planet. Curiously, this yr Canada is the primary G7 nation outdoors the EU to ask for help by way of the Union Civil Safety Mechanism. In response we dispatched a number of hundred firefighters from France, Spain and Portugal to assist sort out the forest fires which raged in Canada this summer time.

Quickly, nonetheless, we realised that this isn’t sufficient. As a result of the frequency and depth of maximum climate occasions, in addition to the pandemic which affected everyone on the similar time, confirmed that typically this mutual help will not do. We want one thing extra. So what’s that?

It’s one thing that we name rescEU. It is a strategic reserve at European stage containing capacities to reply to varied crises. We began with firefighting planes and helicopters however have now expanded to many different areas. As a result of pandemic we have now expanded to medical gear, and even earlier than Russian full scale aggression in Ukraine we had additionally expanded to logistics. Supplying emergency gadgets, power provides and chemical, organic, radiological and nuclear measures and gear. Simply in case there can be a nuclear incident.

Why is that this vital? As a result of we see that native capacities are more and more overwhelmed. However not solely of the affected nation – additionally of different nations, which means they’re unable to come back to assist. I discussed the biggest fireplace in Europe, burning in Greece. For that fireplace alone, we mobilised 12 planes and helicopters. All of them have been from these EU strategic reserves. Why? As a result of all different capacities – Spanish, Italian, French – have been busy at dwelling preventing fires raging all over the place.

So that’s what we’re doing. And I feel we should always broaden that someway and have a mechanism at a worldwide stage. This EU mechanism is already out there to any nation on this planet that wants help. It’s an instance of how you are able to do higher in responding to what can not be modified.

The third motion is adaptation. Not solely should we be ready and cooperate extra carefully in responding to disasters, however we additionally must adapt to those new circumstances. How can we do this? Nicely, there are such a lot of methods.

Why would you plant tomatoes in an arid a part of the nation the place water is already scarce and is getting scarcer? There are numerous different methods to organise productive agriculture in these difficult circumstances.

Likewise, you’ll be able to stop a number of wildfire injury in the event you adapt forest administration. I recall footage of a forest fully burnt in Canada. Within the midst of it, there was a birch tree standing untouched. The actual fact is that leafy timber are rather more immune to fires. As a result of fir timber comprise resin which will increase fireplace danger.

So these are three actions that I feel we should always pursue. Local weather motion, which wants world contribution from each a part of the worldwide group. Enhanced preparation in getting ready and responding to what’s already occurring and what’s going to proceed to occur. And at last, to adapt our methods to those new circumstances.

So I’ll cease right here. I thanks in your consideration and I look ahead to your feedback and questions.



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