MSF: At COP27, leaders must commit to supporting people most affected by climate change

The triple threat of climate change, conflict, and health emergencies is a deadly mix for people living in fragile settings.

A man carries belongings through flood waters

South Sudan 2022 © Peter Caton/MSF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, NOVEMBER 4, 2022—Teams with the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement see each day that climate change is not a distant threat; it is already dramatically affecting vulnerable people across the globe. In advance of the start of the annual UN COP27 climate conference on Sunday, the organizations call on world leaders to live up to their commitments under the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 to help ensure that vulnerable and conflict-affected people are adequately supported to adapt to a changing climate.

“We must collectively find solutions and ensure access to adequate climate finance in challenging environments,” said leaders of the organization in a joint statement today. “Leaving people behind is not an option.”

People who are affected most by the changing climate also often face armed conflict and health emergencies. In fact, of the 25 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change and least ready to adapt, the majority are also experiencing armed conflict. In many of these locations, people lack access to basic health care. People’s lives, health, and livelihoods are threatened when climate shocks occur in countries with limited food, water, and economic resources.

“Today, needs are already outstripping the response,” said Stephen Cornish, director general of MSF-Switzerland. “This is a crisis of solidarity—and it is now giving way to a crisis of morality. The world cannot leave those suffering the most tragic consequences without support.”

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The current reality and projections for the future are alarming for humanitarians and medical treatment providers. Droughts, floods, insect plagues, and changing rainfall patterns can jeopardize food production and people’s means of survival. Extreme and more powerful weather events like cyclones often destroy essential health infrastructure and make accessing medical care difficult. Additionally, there are changing patterns of deadly diseases such as malaria, dengue, and cholera, and conflict and violence are increasing the need for emergency health assistance while also limiting the capacity of health facilities.

Somalia, for example, has suffered through an erratic cycle of droughts and floods in recent years, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation further complicated by three decades of armed conflict. People have limited time to adapt because the shocks are so frequent and severe. Humanitarian organizations have also been responding to flooding in South Sudan and across the Sahel, devastating cyclones in Madagascar and Mozambique, and severe drought in the Horn of Africa as the climate crisis worsens health and humanitarian crises.

“We’re seeing the severe compounding effects of growing climate risks and armed conflict from Afghanistan to Somalia, Mali to Yemen,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director general. “Our work in these places helps people cope with the climate crisis. But humanitarian actors cannot respond alone to the multitude of challenges. Without decisive financial and political support to the most fragile countries, the suffering will only worsen.”

All these situations are occurring in a world that has warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as the world’s most vulnerable pay the deadly price of a problem overwhelmingly caused by the world’s richest nations. Additional warming will lead to disastrous consequences unless urgent and ambitious mitigation measures are taken and adequate support is mobilized for the most affected people and countries so they can adapt to growing climate risks.

Financial and technical support must reach people who need it the most, which is not happening at the scale it should. The Paris Agreement’s commitment to increase support for the least developed countries fails to acknowledge that a significant number of them are also affected by conflict and should be prioritized. To date, promises have not been met to reduce carbon emissions and support countries experiencing the biggest impacts.