Portraits der Autor*innen Nishanie Jayamaha (links, Learning and Climate Change Programme Coordinator for ICVA) und Amir Khouzam (olicy Advisor in the ICRC’s division for policy and humanitarian diplomacy)
Nishanie Jayamaha, Amir Khouzam © private

If it was not clear before, then the stories we see in the news on a near-daily basis, have made sure that it is now—climate change is affecting everyone’s lives. For those who are already among the most vulnerable to sudden shocks, this is doubly true. The urgency and the need for collective action has been evident for some time. Just over a year since the launch of the Charter in May 2021, over 300 humanitarian organizations,1 including UN agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed it.

Charter Signatories are based and/or work in over 80 countries, and are extraordinarily diverse in their size, scales, and mandates. Over half are NGOs, and over 70 percent are small, local, national NGOs and national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


What is the Charter?

The Charter was developed through an inclusive, consultative process over 2019 and 2020, building on existing sector-wide discussions in order to capture the ambitions of the humanitarian sector with large, from international organizations and UN agencies, to NGOs working directly with communities around the world.

What does it say?

The Charter is short, ambitious, and aspirational. It includes just seven commitments—two of which articulate what we intend to do, and five that expand on how. The first commitment is about adapting our own programs to incorporate climate and environmental risk, and to ensure that our humanitarian responses are suitable to the shocks people are facing due to climate change without compromising our ability to deliver lifesaving, emergency assistance. The second commitment reflects the humanitarian imperative to do no harm and commits organizations to decreasing our environmental impact and carbon footprint while making progress towards environmental sustainability.

The next five commitments emphasize the importance of working together to accomplish these goals; of listening to and learning from local actors, and of incorporating indigenous knowledge; of increasing our capacity to understand climate and environmental risk and developing evidence-based solutions; of working across and beyond the humanitarian sector to share knowledge and strengthen climate action; of using our influence to encourage others to mobilize; and, finally, to develop targets and measure our progress within one year of signature. Several signatories have announced targets2 already, and we are excited to see more do so over the Charter’s second year.

Read, learn about, and sign the Charter at www.climate-charter.org in English, French, Arabic, and Spanish.

How does the Charter benefit NGOs and humanitarian organisations?

Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in humanitarian actors, especially NGOs, engaging on and raising awareness of the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable communities. However, as a humanitarian community we need to better understand how we can galvanize the humanitarian community to deliver when it comes to climate action and advocacy, especially in conflict, fragile and complex emergency contexts to meet humanitarian needs. We need to understand better how we can leverage our presence, our expertise, and insights to work with multilateral institutions, governments and other organisations to ensure that greater focus on the impacts of the climate crisis on communities and people most vulnerable are taken into consideration at decision-making levels.

The Charter provides a clear framework for the humanitarian sector as a whole to engage in efforts to clarify both the needs that the climate and environmental crisis is creating and will generate, and with our own role in addressing them.

How are NGOs and humanitarian actors putting the Charter into practice?

Many NGOs have been working with communities to strengthen their resilience to the increasing impacts of climate change on their daily lives. NGOs on the ground respond to what communities need, often without differentiating between humanitarian, development, peacebuilding, or climate action. Through their programmes, NGOs have been incorporating more nature-based solutions, adaption methods and climate risk-informed analysis and early action. At the same time, NGOs have also started to take into consideration the environmental sustainability of supply chains, logistics and operations, noting that many are working in already remote, conflict-affected, and extremely trying contexts.

Through the Learning Stream on Climate Change and Humanitarian Action3 of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) NGOs are sharing examples of how local, national and international organisations are putting the Charter into practice. This series of webinars discusses how:

  • organisations are making resources and methods available to accelerate our own action to reduce our impact of climate change (Commitments #1, #2, #3 and #4),
  • data is being used to better understand the challenges, the risks and opportunities from local actors and communities to ensure a meaningful and inclusive approach and how to address, from the very beginning, the impact of climate change in vulnerable communities with little resources available (Commitment #3);
  • they are working collaboratively to ensure a continuum of efforts to manage risks and to develop sustainable interventions (Commitment #5);
  • humanitarian actors can mobilise climate action and environmental protection in policy discussions at global, regional and country levels (Commitment #6);
  • to develop targets and measure our progress with limited resources available (Commitment #7);
  • lessons learned, best practices from different contexts  can be replicated and/or inspire the wider humanitarian community to do better (Commitment #5).

What’s next?

The Charter is a first—but important—step. While there is some initial guidance4 to help signatories translate commitments into action, we know that more is needed, and that signatories themselves have knowledge and expertise that they can share with others. We are working to develop a structure that will help connect signatories with the resources and expertise they need to develop and measure targets, limit their environmental footprint, and adapt their programs in line with the Charter’s commitments.

We also know that the support of donors is essential, and that we cannot do this on our own. Since it was launched, several states have expressed their willingness to help realize the Charter’s ambitions, and seven states plus the European Union5 have confirmed their formal support for the Charter. We will continue to engage with governments to bring states on board and explore ways they can provide tangible support. Finally, we hope that signatures will continue to be submitted to the Charter. We know that the humanitarian sector has a powerful voice, and that this voice can mobilize others to commit to ambitious action that can help avert the worst outcomes of the climate crisis. The larger and more diverse the number of signatories, the stronger this call will be.

1 Climate Charter (n.d.): Signatures
2 Climate Charter (n.d.): Targets
3 International Council of Voluntary Agencies (n.d.): Climate Change and Humanitarian Action Learning Stream
4 Climate Charter (n.d.): Guidance
5 Climate Charter (n.d.): Supporters

About the authors

Amir Khouzam is a Policy Advisor in the ICRC’s division for policy and humanitarian diplomacy in Geneva, where he currently focuses on climate change, armed conflict, and the environment. He has previously worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and in various peace and humanitarian organizations in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. He holds a master’s degree in human rights and humanitarian policy from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of Toronto.

Nishanie Jayamaha is the Learning and Climate Change Programme Coordinator for the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), a network of 145 local, national, regional, international NGOs in over 160 countries. She has over 20 years of experience of working with the United Nations, Government institutions, NGO, and private sectors in managerial and leadership roles in humanitarian, early recovery, development, natural disaster, conflict, post-conflict, and complex emergency contexts. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations and a bachelor’s degree in English, Sociology and Psychology.

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