11.12.2015 12:07

The Red Cross at the COP

Representatives of 196 countries are meeting in Paris to discuss a new global agreement to tackle climate change. With close to 50, 000 attendees from governments, universities and civil society, the negotiations are the centre of one of the biggest annual meetings of environmental professionals, activists and NGOs.

The Red Cross at the COP
Louisa Whitlock

The meeting will be the 21st annual meeting of the 196 of parties to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the first international treaty to recognise and address the challenges of climate change. Known as the conference of the parties, or COP, the meeting has taken place every year since 1995, but this year is different: in Paris, the negotiators are expecting to agree on the the text of legally binding treaty that will ensure that global warming is limited to an increase of 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, thus limiting the most extreme potential impacts of climate change. It’s vitally important that an agreement is reached now, because if emissions continue to rise then climate change will continue past the level to which it is possible to adapt in many communities, with potentially devastating humanitarian consequences.


While government negotiators work on the text of an agreement, representatives of NGOs, campaigners and activities meet to lobby the negotiators, and exchange information and experiences. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is in Paris with a large delegation of representatives from National Societies from around the world.

People often ask why the Red Cross Movement is concerned about climate change, but in fact, the impacts of climate change are felt most severely by the most vulnerable people in the world. Climate change is increasing disaster risk for millions of people, and the IFRC and the 187 national societies are committed to working with people at risk to strengthen their ability to adapt to the local impacts of climate change.

The IFRC expects that any new agreement reached in Paris should include strong commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an amount compatible with a total temperature rise of 2°C.  Also crucially important is agreement on a mechanism address the current and future impacts of climate change, so the IFRC calls for commitments on financing adaptation to climate change, and managing the unavoidable consequences.

For those of us in the delegation, the COP is a chance to meet with our counterparts in other countries and learn about their initiatives and activities in addressing the challenges of climate change. We don’t often get the chance to all meet face-to-face, so it’s a great opportunity to brainstorm new approaches and share information and experiences, with colleagues inside and outside the Movement.

The Austrian Red Cross is keenly aware of how serious an impact climate change is having on communities in the regions where we work, in eastern Africa, south-eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. As well as considering how climate change affects risk in our disaster risk reduction work, we are supporting local NGOs to adapt to climate change with our partners in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, as well as supporting climate-smart DRR together with the German Red Cross in Central Asia, so I will be particularly interested to find out more about initiatives from this region that address climate change on the local level, and find out new approaches from other parts of the world that we might be able to learn from in our work.

Over the next few days, I will be blogging my experiences from the COP, and sharing insights and ideas from the negotiations, meetings and side events. 

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