The GHF takes on the human impact of climate change
As the clock keeps ticking, climate change leaves 300,000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected and economic losses of US$ 125 billion every year.
Since 2007, the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) has targeted the human dimension of global issues. The Forum’s efforts and initiatives, under the energetic presidency of Kofi Annan and the visionary leadership of its CEO Ambassador Walter Fust, have started to address one of the most pressing issues our world currently faces and will continue to face in the next 20 years – the human impact of climate change.
It is a crisis of global resonance that requires immediate public attention and action – or else it will cause the deadly diminution of our lands, resources and peoples.
Inception and function
The Global Humanitarian Forum is a non-profit organization under Swiss law that emerged from a study done by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies. Soon after the study, the Swiss government approached then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to create an impartial and international platform on which global leaders could have the opportunity to convene and discuss international humanitarian issues as well as strengthen the humanitarian character of Geneva.
The reasoning for the Global Humanitarian Forum’s creation was threefold:
- To create international awareness;
- To stimulate debate; and
- To inspire action.
After only two years, the Forum has already started to tackle the human consequences of climate change. For the Forum, climate change is not so much an environmental question – it is a humanitarian one.
The real issue of climate change is climate justice. Not only does the Forum act as the representative of the face of the climate crisis but as the voice of its effects.
In fact, the Forum recently published a Human Impact Report entitled Climate Change – Anatomy of a Silent Crisis which outlines the implications – past, present and future – of climate change and what must be done to combat the humanitarian impacts of such a crisis.
When asked about the specific functions of the Forum, CEO Ambassador Walter Fust emphasized that the Forum acts as an intermediary between various stakeholders, from the government and private sector to NGOs and civil society. Ambassador Fust adds that, “If we find that someone else can answer to an issue better, quicker and more eloquently, then we will work with those partners.”
For over 30 years, Ambassador Walter Fust has served in the Swiss government, primarily with a humanitarian function. His position as CEO of the Global Humanitarian Forum was unexpected. He had declared retirement following his long stint as head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
It was only when Kofi Annan convinced him to head the project that Fust joined the Forum with a Board comprised of 25 senior members across several disciplines and professional fields. Now, the Forum deals directly with the prevention of present humanitarian crises, while anticipating those of the future.
“When you want something to carry on, you need to think about that in the early stages, not when those moments arrive,” Fust insists. The Forum developed its unique path early on – to represent the human face of issues related to climate change – but had trouble starting up the organization financially.
However, Fust does not concern financial support per-se: “It is my deepest conviction that no one can add genuine value only within the ambit of what he or she is doing. This is why we have to think out of the box,” he argues.
Fust is a calm and collected man, but ask him the right question or give him the right topic and his piercing blue eyes light up with enthusiasm and his hand gestures unfold with determination. His passion, his need, to serve humanity is transparent in his lyrical metaphors and analogies. He comments, “We have an illustrious board and very prominent people who can reach out, who can open doors, who can convince people to change, or to mobilize them for a common cause. And a global leader like Kofi Annan is, of course, an absolutely amazing channel for the Forum.”
The “silent crisis”
In May 2009, the GHF’s Human Impact Report Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis brought a silent crisis into dialogue. Because there is little to no research done on the human or social dimension of the issue, the Report provided statistical and graphical evidence to show the past, present and projected effects of climate change. Anatomy of a Silent Crisis also featured commentary and analysis of scientists and climate, humanitarian and development experts from across the world. Overall, “The role of this report is to document the greatest ongoing silent crisis of human history,” says Kofi Annan.
So, who is to blame for this crisis? Even though Kofi Annan encourages politics to be taken out of the issue, it seems nearly inevitable. Currently, whereas the 50 Least Developed Countries produce not even 2% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, industrialized countries and the biggest developing nations, e.g. India, China, South Africa and Brazil, are accountable for emitting between 75%–80%. The problem is that the least-developed nations are those who face the brunt of climate change and they are least equipped to deal with it.
The ticking time clock
The “‘Tck Tck Tck’ Time for Climate Justice Campaign” is an initiative of the Global Humanitarian Forum and advertising partner EuroRSCG to draw attention to the more than 26 million climate-displaced people (a number that will triple in the next 20 to 30 years) who have been unjustly removed from their homes because of climate-related events. The campaign encourages everyone to be a climate ally, along with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and many more; you can make a “tck” by uploading a video, picture or text message and downloading the free musical petition “Beds are Burning” – go to www.timeforclimatejustice.org and make a statement.
“There are no sides to climate justice,” claims Kofi Annan in his foreword to the Human Impact Report. Such a philosophy acts as the backbone to the Tck Tck Tck campaign and its theme song “Beds are Burning” featuring 60 musicians from around the world, such as Lily Allen, Bob Geldof and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran. Ambassador Fust remarks that back in the ’80s, it was a political song about giving the Aboriginal Australians claims to their native title and land. Now, the song reaffirms lead singer-turned-environmentalist Peter Garrett’s message and inspires our generation to preserve our planet for future generations: “The time has come/To take a Stand/It’s for our Earth/For our Land”.
In response, Ambassador Fust raises the question: “Well, why should we, the present generation, change our attitudes because our predecessors did not take care of certain consequences? And why should we sacrifice liberties, among other things, for the generations after us?” In reality and after all, we love our children and we have to act for the unborn generations. As the clock keeps ticking, climate change leaves 300,000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected and economic losses of US$ 125 billion every year, according to the Human Impact Report.
There is no time left to point fingers, only for our generation to solve such a serious and severe issue. In December, the United Nations 15th annual Climate Conference in Copenhagen aims not only to discuss energy sustainability but also to develop new climate policy before the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Global Humanitarian Forum hosts its own annual event gathering over 400 international humanitarian actors across all disciplines and from public, private and non-governmental sectors. It is a manifestation of the Forum’s work and serves as a platform to exchange ideas and mobilize change in the humanitarian arena.
In the words of Ambassador Fust, “It is Geneva’s contribution of what is going on in the humanitarian world of here today and tomorrow.”
The Annual Global Humanitarian Forum annual event will take place in the home city of the Forum’s Secretariat in Geneva on 28–29 June 2010. Ambassador Fust is encouraging everyone to take up the initiative: “Nobody is ever too small to think future and be innovative”.
Earlier this year the Global Humanitarian Forum piloted a programme in Africa called “The Weather Info for All Initiative” to increase knowledge concerning the changing climate and how it will affect harvest and crop growth patterns. “It is not just money and charity that African farmers want,” asserts Fust, “it is the access to learn about climate patterns because the traditional knowledge is changing – when to harvest, when to plant, what kind of seed.” Therefore, the Forum increased the number of weather monitoring stations and used the power of telecommunications services in Africa by partnering with cell phone companies, the African Bank and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to make this information readily available and free of charge for all.
“Can you imagine that tiny Switzerland has more weather monitoring stations than the African continent?” reaffirms Ambassador Fust.
Another specific focus of the Forum is the need for adaptation in dry lands where access to water is stringent. Access to water, which affects crop production, is a great potential source of conflict, especially as climate change will affect its availability.
Because of the severe competition for water, there exists a water security threat in the Nile Region of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In future, thousands of inhabitants in these areas will be forced to move to other areas where water is more plentiful. This will then raise the questions of statehood and migration.
Fust argues that for commercial enterprises to be successful, they must be authentic in their promotion of greener living: “I am convinced that tomorrow’s consumers will play a more decisive role; so if the corporate sector wants to be successful, it has to come forward with commitments that sustain and enhance their brand and reputation.”
Let’s fix it
Since, according to the Human Impact Report, current trends need to be reversed by 2010 and carbon emissions must drop before 2020, the Global Humanitarian Forum and other climate-focused organizations are at a critical juncture. In December’s UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, there could be agreement on a new monitoring agency to check the greenhouse gas emissions of each country, particularly the most developed ones. In Ambassador Fust’s opinion, it is possible that there may even be a global tax on CO2; however, new taxes would impose a burden on the poor.
According to the Human Impact Report, “Even the most ambitious climate agreement will take years to slow or reverse global warming.” The outcome of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen not only allows for an opportunity to live a greener lifestyle but also an opportunity to participate in the world’s economic growth.
Kofi Annan contends: “If political leaders cannot assume responsibility for Copenhagen, they choose instead the responsibility for failing humanity.” In all, his words ring true: “The future of humanity is endangered by humanity itself.” It seems we are our own worst enemy when it comes to the climate crisis. Now, since we broke it, let’s fix it.
“The world is like a multi-story building with about 200 apartments – big rooftop apartments, very small tiny studios – but how can you live in the rooftop apartments when the whole building is burning up the 15th floor? How can you live when the apartments below don’t have water or light and people are dying and no one is noticing it?”— Ambassador Walter Fust, CEO, Global Humanitarian Forum
Article by Kesley Garvey