Executive Summary

Global Humanitarian Forum
2009 Forum: The Human Impact of Climate Change
Geneva, Switzerland
23 – 24 June 2009

Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Opening Plenary

•    Kofi Annan, President, Global Humanitarian Forum
•    Micheline Calmy-Rey, Federal Councillor, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland
•    Walter Fust, CEO, Global Humanitarian Forum
•    David Rogers, President, Health and Climate Foundation; Senior Advisor, Weather Information for All Initiative
•    Agnes Kijazi, Director of Technical Services, Tanzania Meteorological Agency
•    Jeremiah Lengoasa, Assistant Secretary General, World Meteorological Organization
•    Carl-Henric Svanberg, President and CEO, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson; Board Chairman, Sony Ericsson

Kofi Annan opened the plenary session by noting that the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) has succeeded in bringing both “climate justice” and weather's impact on humanitarian issues to the fore of national and international agendas. But, added Mr. Annan, we have no time to congratulate ourselves. The GHF's Human Impact Report, The Anatomy of A Silent Crisis, confirms that a deep injustice at the heart of the environmental crisis: “It is not just that climate change is going to hit hardest those who already face the biggest disadvantages and challenges. It is also that this additional burden falls on those who have done so little to cause the problem.”

Although developing countries account for less than 1% of greenhouse gases, they can expect to experience the maximum damage. And while political leaders play an important role, Mr. Annan said, the responsibility is shared by everyone.  “We all need to show vision and courage,” he said. “We cannot rest. There is too much at stake.”

Switzerland’s foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, emphasized that humanitarian challenges cannot be dealt with in isolation. “It’s not possible,” she said, “for 7 billion people to have a Western standard of living.” Fundamental human rights have to take precedence.

Moderator Nick Gowing of the BBC introduced Weather Information for Africa, a GHF initiative that will eventually have 5,000 weather stations in place across the African continent.  The plan is to have 490 stations by the end of next year. Africa currently has only 200 such stations, and Southern Africa rates as a black hole for meteorological information.

Agnes Kijazi of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, reported that the program has not yet had any local impact because weather data is still not being received in real time. David Rogers of the Health and Climate Foundation noted that the issue is not simply producing data but also teaching people how to use data. Carl-Henric Svanberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, reported that one new cell phone tower is going online every hour in Africa and that it costs next to nothing to install weather equipment in the towers.

Walter Fust of the GHF noted that the Forum’s studies show that deaths due to climate change, as well as the numbers of those affected, will increase from 50% to 100% over the next 15 to 20 years.

 “The report indicates that nobody is safe,” said Fust. Four billion people live in affected zones. Environmental, social and economic vulnerability intersect at their peaks for 500 million people who are at especially high risk. While monetary losses are greatest in wealthy countries, Fust pointed out that “all but 1% of the economic losses in developing countries are totally uninsured.”

 “The figures tell us that the human impact is huge,” Fust said, “and that it is happening now, and not 20 years from now.”

Barbara Stocking, CEO of Oxfam-GB, stressed that people need to understand climate change, so they can gain some control over their lives and so they can make critical decisions.

Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said that work needs to be done with affected peoples to build their resilience, adding, "It is clear that the impact of climate change has been underestimated."

When an audience member questioned the robustness of figures underlying the report, Barbara Stocking of Oxfam said that while the numbers might be slightly over or under, the fact remains that the world needs to be prepared.

Roger Martin,  chairman of the Ultimate Population Trust, suggested that controlling population might be part of the solution. Stocking countered that regulating how many children a family has is a difficult proposition, especially when only a small part of the world’s population is responsible for climate change. But Stocking suggested that results in India have shown that if women are educated and allowed to use contraceptives, the reduction in population growth can be as impressive as forced population control in China.

In response, Dr. Chan of WHO said, “Educating girls and empowering women is the most important thing that you can do.”


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