Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) developed the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations, which has been eventually launched in May 2021. Mindful of the appalling climate-induced threats endangering the humanitarian work across the poorest countries of the world, the Charter aims to instill eco-friendly discourses within humanitarian organizations, in the attempt to reduce the carbon and environmental footprint in the context of their life-saving activities.


Against the backdrop set by this trail-blazer instrument, the ICRC has already moved the first steps forward to ensure its promotion and respect. According to the timeline announced, the ICRC will commit itself to include in all their programmes climate-related considerations, as well as engaging in bilateral and multilateral partnerships intended to spread awareness of the International Humanitarian Law protecting the environment amongst governmental and non-governmental warring parties. Furthermore, the Geneva-based organization pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030, in comparison with the levels reported in 2018. In order to efficiently work towards these ambitious goals, the ICRC in January 2022 the Climate and Environment Transition Fund to attract and mobilize additional economic resources from public, private and philanthropic actors, as proudly assessed by ICRC President Peter Maurer at the margin of the presentation of this initiative.

This example is a further sign of the increasing attention to the environment within the humanitarian sector, which positively contributes to shedding light on an issue that has been overlooked for too long: the interconnectedness between climate change and conflicts.

In 2019, fourteen experts of armed hostilities and environmental issues published a fleshed-out article on Nature entitled “Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict”, in which they elucidated the nexus between wars and climate-related risks. Despite clarifying that conflicts are in large part determined by social patterns –such as economic disparities and ethnic and racial hatred-, the role played by environmental volatility in the armed clashes breakouts cannot be ignored anymore. This statement is strongly confirmed the ICRC itself, which reported in 2020 the staggering statistics according to which fourteen out of the twenty-five countries most vulnerable to climate change are affected by armed conflict. Amongst these, the dismaying case of Syria sadly stands out.

Syria, situated in the Middle-East, has been exposed since the nineties to three periods of hard-hitting drought, the most intense of which was reported between 2006 and 2010. The dearth of water led to raise of temperatures, widespread desertification and devastation of a large portion of the cultivable lands of the country. In the aftermath of this ripple effect, many people lost their jobs and, in order to make a living, were forced to move from countryside areas to urban ones, rendering cities unsustainably overcrowded. In addition, the sudden interruption of the agricultural activities left Syria without home-made foodstuffs, and the consequential increase of importations caused a dramatic rise of the price of the essential goods. All these factors merged together further exacerbated the already existing political tensions in the country and, given the endemic desperation of the population, joining the armed groups became day after day one of the few ways to escape from starvation. In light of this, the interlinkage between the aforementioned unprecedented drought and the civil conflict broke out in 2011 appears to be quite evident.

The Syrian experience represents only one of the many examples of how climate change-related adversities can trigger potentially tragic vicious circles aggravating the difficulties of highly unstable countries, pushing them even closer to the point of collapse. Upon this premise, it is important that the wide spectrum of actors of the humanitarian field understand and recognize the importance of taking into careful consideration the challenges brought by the ongoing environmental crisis, in order to make sure their commendable missions turn out to be actually far-sighted and successful.    

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