In the run-up to COP26, many discussions revolved around future forecasts and upcoming commitments for more decisive action: CO2-neutral by 2030, net zero by 2050.
But for millions of people around the world, climate change is already a daily reality.
Ninety percent of UNHCR-mandated refugees and 70 percent of people displaced by conflict and violence in their home countries come from countries on the forefront of climate emergency.
They are not only exposed to extreme weather conditions such as floods or cyclones, but also to the drying up of their livelihoods through drought and desertification.
From Burkina Faso to Bangladesh and from Afghanistan to Mozambique, climate change is exacerbating poverty, instability and human movement; it fuels tension and competition for increasingly scarce resources.
Outbreaks of violence and extreme weather force people who have already fled to flee again. But even when peace is restored, displaced people cannot return if their home areas have been rendered uninhabitable by drought, flooding or rising sea levels.
What we are seeing now is a devastating convergence of conflict and climate change that is both fueling displacement and making life even more precarious for those who are already forced to flee.
Some of the countries most at risk from the climate are mired in conflicts that have lasted decades and devastated generations.
In Afghanistan – one of the world’s most fragile countries, suffering from four decades of conflict – the worsening effects of climate change are having profound consequences for those who are least able to cope with it. UNHCR has worked in Afghanistan for more than 40 years. I personally served in the country for several years. The protracted conflict is having irreversible effects – forcing people to leave the country, but also for internal displacement.
A prolonged drought meant that many Afghans struggled to feed their families even before recent developments brought the economy close to collapse. Any further deterioration in the humanitarian situation will almost inevitably lead to even more displacement in a country that has already displaced 665,000 people from their homes this year.
To many readers in more affluent countries this may seem like a distant problem in distant lands. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in August that irreversible changes in the earth’s climate could be observed in all regions. This year alone, catastrophic floods in Europe killed more than 200 people, heat waves claimed deaths in Canada and forest fires raged in Siberia, over the Mediterranean Sea and along the west coast of the United States and Canada.
The world is finally realizing that climate change is an emergency for everyone, everywhere. The bare reality, however, is that those who have contributed the least are already suffering the most.
What does this mean for a country like Mozambique when some of the wealthiest and most progressive nations are struggling to help their people recover and adapt to an increasingly unpredictable climate? As one of the least developed countries in the world, it is grappling with violent attacks that have displaced more than 730,000 people while struggling to recover from a series of cyclones, including Cyclone Idai in March 2019 – one of the worst storms ever have ever been registered in the southern hemisphere.
The longer we delay global action and support for countries like Mozambique so that they can mitigate the effects of climate change, the worse the consequences will be.
Estimates assume that without ambitious climate protection the number of people who need humanitarian aid due to disasters could rise to 200 million annually by 2050 – twice the current number.
What can we do and what do we do?
UNHCR operates in more than 130 countries and has 70 years of experience in protecting displaced persons. We use this expertise and knowledge to help countries with limited resources and resources better anticipate and respond to displacements caused by disasters. In places where people have already been displaced, we help them prepare for and adapt to climate change.
In Bangladesh, for example, UNHCR and its partners have helped Rohingya refugees reduce the risk of floods and landslides during the monsoon season by planting fast-growing trees to stabilize slopes, providing alternative sources of energy to firewood for cooking, and training refugee volunteers to be first responders .
We are ready to step up our response, but we need help to do that. Some of the solutions will be financial in nature; some of them technically. But most have to come from communities that are at the forefront of the climate emergency. Their voices need to be heard at the COP and beyond. They have a cross-generational knowledge of the country, so they can apply age-old solutions that can be applied.
The human cost of climate change is here and now. If our joint efforts to drastically reduce emissions and limit global warming fail, there is a risk that the landscape in which UNHCR operates today will become a universal reality.
Younger generations are rightly fighting for their future human rights. We are now beyond pledges – we need action and accountability.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.