Jennifer M’VOUAMA and Ruby HOLMES represent HI at COP26 in Glasgow, 2021 (George Graham present but not pictured) | © J.M’VOUAMA/HI
After this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, HI representatives share their experience and the organization’s next steps for including disability in climate action
George Graham, HI-UK Chief Executive:
What sticks out from COP is the amount of energy. So many people are thinking hard about how to address the problems of climate change, and the profusion of ideas was really inspiring. Our partners in the disability space were obviously very engaged. The challenge, however, is making sure that the politicians who actually have the power are hearing all of these voices.
Jennifer participated in a fantastic event that was talking about how important it is to include people with disabilities in adaptation to climate change and in particular to disaster preparedness. If one in 7 people in the world live with disabilities, and most of them live in disaster-prone countries then it is critical that disaster planning includes thinking through the needs of, and engaging with those people, because if not- frankly it’s a matter of life and death.
Jennifer M’Vouama, HI Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Policy & Development Advocate:
This year was the first time HI ever participated in a COP, and hopefully it won’t be the last, considering the critical need to amplify frontline voices experiencing the worst effects of climate change, including those of persons with disabilities. The reaction to HI’s presence and contribution this year was mainly one of surprise and curiosity. Connecting disability inclusion and climate action is not always a given, and is often seen as a marginal concern or an afterthought in comparison with reducing carbon emissions globally and supporting national adaptation plans. Speaking publicly as HI, alongside partners CBM UK, IDA and REPSSI, during one of these events provided an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate impacts of climate disasters on millions of persons with disabilities, especially in poorer countries.
When it was relevant to establish connections, responses from organizations varied between admitting to doing very little if not nothing for disability inclusion, sometimes despite interest and willingness, and high-level answers confirming that disability inclusion was embedded in their actions but without details, and with sometimes unfortunate language. At COP we were able to enter conversations and groups where HI was never or rarely present, and to introduce our added value. We were able to raise awareness on disability inclusive climate action and learn from others to inform our own programming.
The next steps for HI in terms of climate change disaster risk reduction are that we have got to be involved in conversations about preparedness, localisation and inclusion in humanitarian action. We have got to ensure that our own programs have really robust approaches to preparedness, particularly in the most vulnerable countries.
We’re talking to mainstream humanitarian actors who are thinking through how to get the humanitarian system properly prepared for what will be a worsening crisis situation in the decades to come. Preparedness is key, and local action will have to be central to that- so we have to get serious about local action. Inclusion will have to be central to that, because it doesn’t make sense to prepare for disasters in ways that exclude the most vulnerable, and that includes people with disabilities and other marginalized groups.
Given the urgency of the climate crisis and its humanitarian impacts, HI is determined to scale up our efforts for inclusive DRR and climate action on the ground for communities and individuals at risk. Among others, this will include supporting innovative approaches such as “anticipatory action,” which is a method that uses forecasting technologies and information to better plan and act before disasters occur. These methods are being tested in different contexts and require the expertise of actors like HI to be inclusive and equitable. HI will continue to advocate globally and locally for disability inclusive climate action, alongside partners from the disability movement through various coalitions and networks.
It was noticeable that the event was not very accessible. There was very little sign language and little obvious effort to make it accessible to people with different types of disability. The fact that COP was not able to allow Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar into the building due to a lack of wheelchair access really shows how far the world still needs to go to ensure proper inclusion of people with disabilities. Even though it was a largely progressive space with a lot of good intentions, it still didn’t get disability and inclusion right.
I’m proud to say that HI and our partners, CBM, IDA, and others were the exception to that. The event that we participated in was much more inclusive and accessible.
Accessibility barriers to COP26 were brought to the forefront this year. This was surprising, given that COP26 organizers were genuinely concerned about ensuring an inclusive, accessible event during the planning phase. But at the same time, this was no exception, and exemplifies why persons with disabilities are often left out from decision-making on climate change or other conversations that concern them.
GREEN Initiative: HI is committed to reducing the adverse effects of climate change on vulnerable and marginalized populations worldwide. We help communities prepare for and adapt to climate shocks and stresses and we respond to crises magnified by environmental factors. Applying a disability, gender and age (DGA) inclusion lens across all our actions, we advocate for practitioners and policy-makers to embed DGA in their climate work as well. HI is also determined to reduce its own ecological footprint by adapting and implementing environmentally conscious approaches to humanitarian action.