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Concluding Humanitarian Affairs Segment, Economic and Social Council Adopts Text on Increasing Coordination of United Nations Emergency Humanitarian Assistance

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ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCILPLENARY
2022 SESSION, 28TH & 29TH MEETINGS (AM & PM)

Speakers Underscore Existential Threat Posed to Humanity by Climate Change

The Economic and Social Council concluded its humanitarian segment today, holding its third and final panel, titled “Humanitarian impacts of the climate crisis: escalating risks, challenges and actions” — and also adopting the humanitarian resolution titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2022/L.11).

Miia Rainne (Finland), Vice-President of the Council, opened the meeting, with the panel moderated by Anja Nitzsche, Chief of the Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Branch at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and featuring nine panellists from United Nations agencies, regional blocs and international humanitarian organizations.

Discussants stressed the existential threat posed to humanity by the climate emergency, with 12 of the 15 countries most at risk and least able to adapt being in Africa. The Secretary-General’s Global Crisis Response Group reports that 107 developing economies are severely exposed to one of three elements of crisis — food, energy or finance — and 70 countries are severely exposed to all three at once, with 108 developing economies facing new economic shocks with dangerous debt levels.

Panellists from regional groups representing small island and developing States warned that their countries and regions are experiencing the dire effects of climate change. Climate-related disasters destroyed a capital city and threaten to kill off the longest barrier reef system in the northern hemisphere — a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. However, these types of disasters do not generate media attention or humanitarian response the way earthquakes or tsunamis do. While it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, much more funding is required for adaptation and resilience, as the loss and damage will increase exponentially with every tenth of a degree of global warming increase.

They further noted that developing countries continue to experience financing eligibility issues due to per capita gross domestic product (GDP) — with only nine Alliance of Small Island States qualifying for official development assistance (ODA) loans. Loss and damage financing should be on the world’s balance sheet, not solely on local States — especially while powerful Governments are still pouring $500 billion into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels. Without more adaptation financing, they stressed that developing States will need more humanitarian assistance.

Citing the implications of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the humanitarian landscape, panellists noted how the pace and scale of change is outracing the capability of those in vulnerable situations to reduce risk and adapt, addressing priority actions needed for the humanitarian system to respond, and key gap areas that require more focus and investment.

After their presentations, the Council opened the floor to representatives of eight Member States, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), for an interactive discussion with the panellists — several of whom took the floor a second time in response to comments and questions about climate risks and the urgent need for action, as well as emergency and adaptation financing for developing countries.

In the afternoon, the Council took up its humanitarian resolution titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2022/L.11). By the text, it would call upon the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to enhance accountability to Member States, including affected countries, and all other stakeholders, including local governments and relevant local organizations, as well as affected populations, and to further strengthen humanitarian response efforts.

Further to the draft, it would call upon all parties to armed conflict to respect, and all States to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, as well as to comply with their obligations under human rights and refugee law, as applicable, and also encourage States to renew their efforts for the effective implementation of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

Before action, the Council held a general discussion involving 26 Member States, as well as representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The resolution was then adopted unanimously without a vote.

The representative of Hungary spoke in explanation of position after adoption.

Ms. Msuya and Diego Pary Rodríguez (Bolivia), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, then delivered closing remarks.

High-Level Panel III

Opening the final day of its humanitarian segment, the Economic and Social Council held its third high-level panel discussion titled “Humanitarian impacts of the climate crisis: escalating risks, challenges and actions”.

Moderated by Anja Nitzsche, Chief of the Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Branch at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the panel featured: Mahmoud Mohieldin, United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champion of Egypt for the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) and Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), speaking via video link; Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Senior Adviser for Climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator; Carina Bachofen, Associate Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre; Carlos Fuller (Belize), Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Conrod Hunte (Antigua and Barbuda), Deputy Chair and Lead Climate Negotiator of the Alliance of Small Island States; Adam Abdelmoula, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), speaking via video link; Sumera Javeed, Executive Manager of Health and Nutrition Development Society in Pakistan, also speaking via video link; and Sabina Frédéric, President of the White Helmets Commission of Argentina, in a pre‑recorded video message.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said that, just a few months before the Sharm el-Sheikh United Nations Climate Change Conference and almost halfway into 2022, by any measure, the world is in a worse position than ever before. The Secretary-General’s Global Crisis Response Group reports that 107 developing economies are severely exposed to one of three elements of crisis — food, energy or finance — and 70 countries are severely exposed to all three at once. He continued that 108 developing economies are facing new economic shocks with dangerous debt levels, with many threatened to be in default after major depreciation, and over 70 per cent of poor people live in countries not eligible for concessionary financing. The international community must adopt a holistic approach to climate action within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, considering unemployment and inequality. There have been nice words and pledges to save the planet, but the focus should be on implementation, he stressed. The upcoming COP27 ‑ in Egypt, an African and Arab country — will, for the first time, have five regional fora to enhance solutions in the field, with a bottom-up approach. However, developing economies still need the $100 billion promised at COP15 in Copenhagen, allowing them to avoid more debt for developing economies, as they did not cause climate change.

Ms. BARRETT noted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released three reports and the science is clear: human influence is making extreme climate events, including heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts, more frequent and severe. Human influence is the main driver of ocean warming since the 1970s, and of changes in the cryosphere — the frozen parts of the world — driving the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in spring snow cover since the 1950s. Rather than responding to and recovering from a single hazard, the international community must now figure out how to adapt systems to a complex climate reality. Impacts and risks are not distributed equally, she noted, with between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion living in global hotspots across Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic. Without urgent transformational action these trends will continue, damaging infrastructure systems such as sanitation, water, energy and transportation — especially if climate change projections are not included in future planning. “We must take action in this critical decade if we are to have any chance of holding warming to safe levels for all of humanity,” she stressed.

Ms. MSUYA said the global climate crisis is an existential threat to humanity, with vulnerable people feeling it with every drought, flood and superstorm. She stressed that 12 of the 15 countries most at risk and least able to adapt are in Africa, with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs supporting efforts to provide life-saving needs in nine of them. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change cites soft adaptation limits, where people lack resources to adapt, and hard adaptation limits, when the damage caused by climate change is permanent, with people losing the land they live on to rising sea levels. In both cases, vulnerable countries need more resources, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-run Central Emergency Response Fund and Country-based Pooled Funds can complement climate funds with speed and agility, having eased the suffering of over 2.5 million people before the onset of floods and drought — “however, all of this is not enough”, she stated. Many different players must assemble, with investment in anticipatory action and early warning systems, flexible funding and people and communities. “We are up against a crisis of unfathomable proportions,” she stressed, and no one can walk this path alone, or should be left behind.

Ms. BACHOFEN, also speaking on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the climate crisis is the top priority of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, using climate science to manage risks and bring a humanitarian perspective to discussions. It is urgent to reduce greenhouse‑gas emissions, but the world is not mitigating the crisis fast enough, as some places will simply get too hot to sustain climate-sensitive livelihoods, and in others, sea level rise and saltwater intrusion may render agricultural lands untenable, she said. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is scaling up anticipatory action, she said, which must be available in more communities for different types of hazards, and at a much greater scale — citing such resilience and adaptation programming as planting mangroves on shorelines to protect communities from storm surges. Humanitarians are also involved in measures to support the safe and dignified movement of people forced to move in part due to climate change. Noting that estimates of future costs associated with loss and damage range from $290 billion to $580 billion, she called for improved finance for climate adaptation and hazard risk reduction and more coordinated investment. Funding for adaptation must also reach last-mile communities, with donors bridging the gaps in fragile, conflict‑affected humanitarian contexts.

Mr. FULLER said residents of his country, Belize, are dealing with flooding and heavy rainfall not associated with a tropical cyclone, with crops submerged and livestock standing in foot-high water. The terrain is flat so the water will not run off, and must seep into the ground or evaporate. The impacts will be multidimensional, as scarce resources must be used to repair roads and markets will not have fresh produce on shelves, he said, noting that this type of disaster does not generate media attention or humanitarian response the way earthquakes or tsunamis do. However, he noted that the longest barrier reef system in the northern hemisphere — a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site — is likely to die, and the former capital of Belize City was destroyed by hurricanes and 15-foot storm surge, led to new capital city. Unequivocally, these are caused by climate change; however, it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5ºC. Much more funding is required for adaptation and resilience, which is why CARICOM and the Alliance of Small Island States are advocating for a dedicated financing facility to address loss and damage. Farmers will eventually give up and fishermen surrender, he stressed, without a 50 per cent reduction of greenhouse‑gas emissions by 2030 and more financial and technical support — as loss and damage and will increase exponentially with every tenth of a degree of global warming.

Mr. HUNTE noted the combined 2015-2020 cost of hurricanes and tropical storms incurred by Antigua and Barbuda was $232 million, with an average hurricane costing 8.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), while the Bahamas experienced $3.4 billion in damages in 2019. Low-income families in Antigua and Barbuda pay 10 to 20 per cent of annual income on preparing for the impact of climate change. Existing arrangements are not fit for purpose, he stated. The science is clear that the climate emergency will continue to affect everyone into the future. He noted the common thread is finance, but the international community must distinguish between humanitarian and climate finance. Both subsets of finance should be cognizant of climate change, he stated, while his country continues to experience the eligibility issue due to per capita GDP — with only nine Alliance of Small Island States qualifying for official development assistance (ODA) loans. The solution, he advised, is to have climate finance distinct from current and future development finance. Loss and damage financing should be on the world’s balance sheet, not solely on local States, he stressed — noting powerful Governments are still pouring $500 billion into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels. Without more adaptation financing, developing States will need more humanitarian assistance.

Mr. ABDELMOULA said the current drought in Somalia is the worst in four decades, affecting 7 million people and displacing over 805,000 in search of food, water and pasture. The country has witnessed four consecutive failed rainy seasons, and is facing the possibility of a fifth, with a heightened risk of famine in eight areas, and 7.1 million people facing severe food shortages by September, with 213,000 people already facing catastrophe. Some models predict a temperature rise of 3.4°C across Somalia by 2080, and despite more frequent wetter years, water availability per capita will decline by half. He noted the current Humanitarian Response Plan in Somalia is only 20 per cent funded, even though this drought is projected to be worse than in 2010/11 when over 260,000 people died. To combat these negative climate impacts, UNSOM was the first mission to deploy a Climate Security and Environmental Adviser, and climate adaptation is also mainstreamed in the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (2021-2025). He cited nature-based solutions implemented in the flood‑prone Shabelle River basin to combat flooding, and a joint United Nations project in the Galmudug State to fight the climate-induced displacement of communities. “We need to envisage what the country will look like in the next few decades, increasing investment in long-term sustainable solutions,” he stated.

Ms. JAVEED said the Health and Nutrition Development Society has evolved into one of the largest non-governmental organizations in Pakistan, empowering a population of more than 31 million people in 25,000 villages and urban settlements. Climatic changes are expected to drive reduced agricultural productivity, variability of water availability, coastal erosion and seawater intrusions, yet Pakistan contributes less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse‑gas emissions. She noted that 55 per cent of humanitarian disasters are predictable, but funding is less than 1 per cent of that needed to address them in advance. Her organization is active in a network pioneering proactive approaches, with locally led approaches intending a systemic-level shift in providing humanitarian aid. The locally led Anticipatory Action organization provided 9.5 million beneficiaries with £570,000 over the last two years. Financing is the main issue for the global South, she noted, requiring coordinated efforts by the United Nations, donors and respective local governments to mobilize and utilize funds. Long-term adaptive measures are required to enhance resilience, including indigenous knowledge.

Ms. FRÉDÉRIC said Argentina has years of humanitarian experience in 70 countries, focused on non-discriminatory humanitarian assistance and strengthening community resilience. The White Helmets, a new body, has jurisdiction to develop a two-prong strategy to better manage resources and foreign policy, providing assistance and emergency to the most vulnerable, for humanitarian missions and mitigation and prevention of disasters, and to facilitate planning and dialogue. The White Helmets have seven volunteers in Ukraine providing specialized logistics and psychological help, and recently relaunched an agricultural and pedagogical programme in Haiti as part of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in conjunction with the World Food Programme (WFP), and is assisting communities affected by drought in Bolivia. She also cited a pioneering initiative to assist Mexican, Central American and Caribbean nationals in the United States who have been displaced by natural hazards.

Participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue were the representatives of Guatemala, El Salvador, Thailand, United States, Switzerland, Norway, Greece and Portugal. Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also spoke.

Panellists Ms. Barrett, Ms. Bachofen, Mr. Fuller, Mr. Hunte, Ms. Javeed and Pablo Virasoro, Vice-President of the White Helmets, took the floor a second time to respond to comments and questions.

Action

The Council then turned to its general discussion on Item 9 titled “Special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance”, as delegates spoke before action on the humanitarian resolution titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2022/L.11).

Speaking before the action were the representatives of Angola, Nicaragua, Syria, Guatemala, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Viet Nam, Greece, Morocco, Philippines, Russian Federation, Türkiye, Poland, New Zealand, Chile, Panama, United Kingdom, China, Indonesia, Mali, Ghana, Ukraine, Zambia, Switzerland and the Republic of Korea.

Representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also spoke.

Following the general discussion, the Council took up the draft resolution titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2022/L.11). By that text, the Council would stress that the United Nations system should continue to enhance and improve the efficiency of existing humanitarian capacities, knowledge and institutions, including, as appropriate, through the transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms and expertise to developing countries, and encourage the international community, the relevant entities of the United Nations system and other relevant institutions and organizations to support national authorities in their capacity‑building programmes.

It would further call upon the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to enhance accountability to Member States, including affected States, and all other stakeholders, including local governments and relevant local organizations, as well as affected populations, and to further strengthen humanitarian response efforts.

Also, by the text, it would call upon all parties to armed conflict to respect, and all States to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, as well as to comply with their obligations under human rights law and refugee law, as applicable, and further encourage States to renew their efforts for the effective implementation of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

The resolution was then adopted unanimously without a vote.

The representative of Hungary, speaking in explanation of position after adoption, said his delegation joined consensus on the resolution but disassociated from the last two preambular paragraphs, concerning the global compact on refugees and the Global Compact for Migration.

Closing Remarks

Ms. MSUYA said the world is confronting a megacrisis fuelled by conflict, climate change, the rising cost of living and a pandemic — resulting in an alarming increase in hunger, poverty, displacement and inequality almost everywhere. For hundreds of thousands of people, the threat of famine is all too real, and a gaping financial gap will plunge millions more people into destitution. The international community must redouble its efforts to support a strong, flexible, well-resourced humanitarian system. She noted that the Economic and Social Council agreed that all parties to conflict must do more to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and Governments must ensure that humanitarian activities are exempt from sanctions and counter-terrorism measures. Discussions on the pandemic highlighted the need to build more resilient health‑care, education and protection systems, while it is also urgent to stop horrific levels of violence against women and children, and address the massive global hunger crisis.

She noted the Humanitarian Response Plans lacks 80 per cent of necessary funds, a gap that must be closed. It is also important to act pre-emptively, as in three months’ time, 3 million more people will go hungry in the Horn of Africa. With the climate crisis worsening, driving more people from their homes, she called for Member States to deliver on the $100 billion of climate finance they promised to developing countries, including for adaptation and resilience. Citing a new generation of local humanitarian agencies, she noted that in 2021, more than one quarter of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ country‑based pooled funds went directly to local and national non-governmental organizations — but more must be done to empower them to lead. However, solutions will fall short unless humanitarian actors are able to better understand the people they serve, in all their diversity. “We must make it our duty to listen and respond accordingly,” she said.

Humanitarian assistance can only go so far, however, and leaders must redouble their efforts at peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Collaboration and multilateralism are key, as planetary emergencies require planetary politics. People in their hour of greatest need want first to survive and second to find a way out of crisis, she said. Humanitarian, development and peacemaking communities must work together and not let institutional distinctions get in the way. “We know what we need to do to build a better humanitarian system, one that can rise to the enormity of today’s problems and those of tomorrow,” she stated.

DIEGO PARY RODRÍGUEZ (Bolivia), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, stressed it is even more urgent to ramp up efforts to address the root causes of multidimensional crises, which are leading to the highest levels of humanitarian need, including record levels of acute food insecurity and displacement. Participants had heard how current challenges are creating a protection crisis where women and children are often the most impacted, including the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence. With the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance continuing to rise in 2022, he set out a call to action on multiple fronts.

The international community must ensure equitable, affordable and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries and people, as it is unacceptable that many of the world’s poorest continue to battle the COVID-19 virus unvaccinated. Similarly, there must be investment in national health-care systems to manage and prevent the next pandemic. He urged action on gender inequality, to promote women’s participation in humanitarian action, planning and decision‑making, and prevent and respond to gender-based violence and sexual violence. The world is facing a learning crisis, he noted, with millions of children in need of support to recover lost education, and access to mental health and psychosocial support during humanitarian crises. With response to the climate crisis a “moral imperative”, he called for developed countries to urgently meet financial commitments including $100 billion per year in funding to developing States.

Responding to the rising acute food insecurity and famine risk requires a multisector approach — including food security, nutrition, safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers. Otherwise, acute hunger will continue to rise and deepen. Local actors must be empowered, he noted — especially women-led organizations, on the front lines of response. More broadly, he stressed that all parties in all armed conflicts must urgently comply with international humanitarian law. Humanitarian exemptions from counter‑terrorism and sanctions measures should also be the norm, rather than negotiated case by case, while ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law — including attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel. He urged the international community to close the funding gap to meet humanitarian needs, especially through support for the Central Emergency Response Fund and humanitarian country-based pooled funds. “We have over the last week examined the best way forward as we respond to crises,” he said: “Now we need to act.”

For information media. Not an official record.