Humanitarians understand the importance and urgency of the environmental agenda, and they have a clear desire to incorporate environmental considerations into their work. However, they are hindered in their endeavours by multiple challenges. This study examines these challenges, as well as key opportunities for change and development.
The lack of prioritisation of environmental considerations in a humanitarian response is the most significant barrier to effectively integrating environmental considerations into a humanitarian response. Most DEC members do not prioritise environmental considerations at every level – from their organisational structure down to programme design and implementation. This is primarily for two reasons: there are insufficient influential champions; the speed and ‘lifesaving’ interventions required for humanitarian response outweigh environmental considerations, both in time spent to consider them, and in the funding and resources required to do so. As such, environmental considerations are rarely seen as a priority, resulting in a lack of funding, resources, and expertise. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle of de-prioritising and under-resourcing environmental considerations. If environmental concerns are to be adequately addressed in humanitarian responses, they must be sufficiently resourced and prioritised.
The lack of prioritisation of environmental considerations results in a lack of expertise and knowledge in the sector. It is unclear whether organisations do not hire expertise because they cannot justify the expenditure, or the lack of expertise results in a lack of champions, leading to de-prioritisation. Few organisations had an environmental specialist within the organisation, and fewer still were based in the UK and therefore had a direct relationship with the DEC. As organisations face consistent funding constraints, collaboration and knowledge sharing is the most efficient way to overcome the lack of expertise. Effective policies and tools should be more widely shared between DEC members, in order to relieve the burden on organisations and avoid reinventing the wheel. Additionally, the potential impact of indigenous knowledge on humanitarian responses is an under-developed area of research. While partnering with local environmental actors is initiated by some organisations, it is not commonplace. Organisations should seek to further this area by investing in the local environmental agenda in humanitarian contexts.
Effective knowledge sharing would contribute to this and enable existing tools to be adapted to differing contexts.
Overall, this review showed a conflation of climate change and environmental degradation within organisational rhetoric. This may be due in part to the lack of expertise, which may cause confusion and inadequate use of environmental tools. Many organisations have introduced internal climate-friendly policies, such as flight restrictions and green waste management to reduce carbon footprints. While these practices are important, it is unclear whether they are considered substitutes for field-based green policies, or whether they are genuine attempts to affect international organisational change from the UK. Regardless of the motivation, these two issues are not the same and need separate responses. While climate change can lead to environmental degradation, environmental issues (such as soil erosion) cannot always be solved by reducing organisations’ carbon footprint. In order to adequately respond to the complex demands of including environmental considerations into humanitarian work, organisations must have a clear definition of the two issues and how they relate to one another.