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Guidance

The Charter is just the first step

The commitments in the Climate and Environment Charter offer a set of principles to guide humanitarian action in response to the climate and environmental crises. To turn these commitments into reality, organizations should develop specific and measurable targets and design action plans that outline how they plan to meet their targets.

This guidance aims to support organizations as they develop targets and measure progress. It will evolve over time, as our knowledge and practices develop.

View guidance below:

COMMITMENT 1: Step up our response to growing humanitarian needs and help people adapt to the impacts of the climate and environmental crises

We will reduce risks and vulnerability to shocks, stresses and longer-term changes through an increased focus on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and anticipatory action. Across all of our work, including preparedness, response and recovery, we will consider and address changing climate and environmental risks in rural and urban settings. Our programmes and operations will be based on sound risk analyses, informed by the best available short, medium and longer-term climate and environmental science and data, and by local and indigenous knowledge.

We will support those who are the most at risk, taking into account the influence that individual characteristics, such as gender, age and disability, structural inequity, legal status, and situations such as poverty, marginalization, displacement, migration, public health emergencies or armed conflict, have on people’s capacities and vulnerabilities.

What does this mean?

This commitment is about adapting our programs to better support and strengthen people’s resilience to current and future climate and environmental risks. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today, warming will continue for several decades thanks to past greenhouse gas emissions. We are already witnessing how climate and environmental crises disproportionately impact communities in vulnerable contexts and situations, and regardless of what we do, these impacts will not disappear overnight.

To ensure that our programs are fit for purpose, we need to ensure that they are designed and implemented to address current impacts and help reduce future risks. This requires scaling up climate-smart disaster risk reduction efforts, understanding current and changing risks, and identifying locally appropriate solutions to address them.

There are four key elements to this commitment:

Stepping up our response to growing humanitarian needs

Our first responsibility as humanitarian organizations is to help reduce suffering and address protection and assistance needs. This commitment reflects a recognition that these crises will increase needs, and our responses must meet that increase. We have seen a similar dynamic occur during the COVID-19 pandemic — the effects of the climate and environment crises will be greater and last longer.

Increasing our focus on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and anticipatory action

Climate change adaptation (CCA) refers to actions that reduce the negative impacts of the current and predicted future impacts of climate change, while taking advantage of potential new opportunities. For humanitarian organizations, this most often means working to decrease the harm that the changing climate may pose to people. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) and anticipatory action refer to efforts to reduce the exposure of people and communities to risks that might arise from disasters and preventing the negative impacts of disasters before they are felt.

This commitment reflects the need to strike a better balance between responding to rising needs, and proactively reducing and adapting to the risks that the climate and environmental crises already pose and will continue to generate. Examples of steps organizations can take to shift towards prevention and risk reduction may include scaling up community awareness and educational programmes about risks that people face, incorporating nature-based solutions into programming, making sure that community and national early warning systems are integrated and connected, and strengthening anticipatory / forecast-based action.

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Considering and addressing changing climate and environmental risks in humanitarian work, including preparedness, response, and recovery

This commitment requires organizations to integrate climate and environmental risk management into their work—to make their work climate-smart. Climate-smart programs and operations use available weather forecasts and climate science to inform operations so that they enable communities to anticipate, absorb, and adapt to climate shocks. They must be informed not only by past and current risks, but also future risks, including the possibility of more frequent, extreme and unpredictable weather events as well as slower-onset changes to the climate and environment such as sea-level rise and environmental degradation. Sources of information to inform analysis vary depending on the program scale, scope, and context, and should include better use of weather forecasts (for short-term variability) and climate projections (for longer-term trends). For more information on data sources and data gaps, see Commitment 4.

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Supporting those most at risk

There is a fundamental disparity in how the climate and environment crises are felt and by whom: most often, even within communities that are hardest hit, people with specific vulnerabilities are especially impacted. As individual characteristics influence the type and severity of risks people face, these elements are key to sound risk analysis.

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Considerations on Targets

  • Targets related to addressing changing climate and environmental risks in humanitarian work may touch upon three variables: the extent to which an organization commits to integrate climate and environmental risks into their work; the portion of their work that they commit to adapting; and their timeline for making these changes. An ambitious target might commit to making all programs climate-smart by a given date. A less-ambitious target might commit only to making all programs climate-aware, meaning that programs account for climate and weather forecasts and data but do not systematically incorporate analysis and anticipation into their design and implementation. A minimal target might commit to making only a certain percentage of programs climate-aware.
  • Targets may also relate to other elements of this commitment depending on an organization’s mandate and scale. Targets might make reference to stepping up or increasing investment in CCA, DRR and/or anticipatory action; increasing the proportion of DRR programming that is nature- based; or specifically investing in addressing the disproportionate impacts of the crises on women, girls, older people, people with disabilities, people affected by conflict, and other groups that may be marginalized and/or vulnerable.

Examples of Potential Targets

  • By 2025, climate and environmental risks will be identified, minimized and managed across all our programs.
  • By 2025, climate and environmental risks will be factored in all our programmes and humanitarian operations.
  • We will reach 250 million people with activities to address the rising climate risks by 2025.

COMMITMENT 2: Maximize the environmental sustainability of our work and rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions

In line with the principle of “do no harm”, we will avoid, minimize and manage the damage we cause to the environment and the climate, while maintaining our ability to provide timely and principled humanitarian assistance. We will implement sound environmental policies and systematically assess the immediate and longer-term environmental impact of all our work, including our programmes, procurement, logistics and premises.

We will measure and significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, in line with global goals. Supporting high-quality emission reduction projects to offset unavoidable emissions, including through conservation and restoration of forests and land, will complement reduction efforts and will not be considered a substitute for such efforts. We will responsibly manage and use natural resources, including water, and reduce and properly manage the waste generated in our premises and by our programmes.

What does this mean?

The scientific community is clear about the risks humanity faces if we do not drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels, more sustainably manage and consume resources, and transform production systems to decrease waste and pollution. The “do no harm” principle requires humanitarian actors to limit the harm that they may be causing through their programs. This entails that we systematically evaluate, avoid and mitigate the negative environmental impacts of our programs as much as possible, and use our influence to push for more environmentally sustainable humanitarian action, notably when it comes to supply chains and logistics.

This commitment also acknowledges that our first responsibility as humanitarian actors is to preserve our ability to respond to humanitarian needs in a timely manner. In some cases, more environmentally responsible ways of working can contribute to swifter recovery, resilience building and sustainable development, and reduce costs.

There are five key elements to this commitment:

Developing and implementing environmental policies

Environmental policies communicate the commitments an organization has taken both internally to employees and management, and externally to communities and people with whom we work, as well as our donors and other partners. They allow organizations to monitor and report on progress and help shape an institutional culture that is aligned with the principles of the Charter.

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Systematically assessing, avoiding and mitigating the immediate and longer-term environmental impact of our programs

Accounting for the environmental impact of humanitarian programs ate every stage of the program cycle is a critical step towards “doing no harm” or as little harm as possible to the natural environment. This should be understood as a process of evaluating the potential impacts that humanitarian programs can have on the natural environment, and ensuring that mitigation actions are included in the design and ultimately implemented. Environmental risk management also entails defining and monitoring indicators that continuously inform the risk management process. Finally, guidelines for the most common environmental risks should be developed and regularly updated.

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Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The Paris Agreement includes an objective to limit global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Science tells us that we must go beyond that. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that to avoid catastrophic impacts, global temperatures cannot rise more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

To prevent further warming the world must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 50 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. According to UNEP, this requires an annual real reduction in emissions of 7.6 percent per year, and eventually a complete replacement of fossil fuels, transformations across production, transportation, and logistics sectors, and the protection and development of natural carbon sinks. The Charter recognizes that humanitarian actors need to contribute to these efforts.

A note on emissions scopes: As introduced by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions are classified as falling within Scopes 1, 2, or 3.3 Scope 1 emissions include all direct emissions under the control of an organization. Scope 2 emissions encompass those emissions under the indirect control of an organization, such as emissions from electricity that is purchased and eventually used by an organization. Scope 3 emissions cover all other indirect emissions occurring from sources not under the control of an organization, including emissions from travel, procurement, logistics, waste, and water usage.

Scope 3 emissions represent the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions for most humanitarian organizations. Reducing our environmental footprint requires us to identify the breadth (organizational boundaries) and depth (scope) of our emissions and take steps to directly reduce those under our control. We must also work together as a sector to influence our partners and suppliers to reduce their emissions. This requires organizations to collectively ensure that procurement and logistics choices are not only dictated by prices, but also by their environmental impact.

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Offsetting emissions

We need to act to reduce our actual greenhouse gas emissions and should not rely on mechanisms that compensate for our emissions. However, some level of emissions are likely to remain for the foreseeable future. In addition to actual emission reduction, high-quality offset and carbon credit mechanisms can help organizations compensate for unavoidable emissions.

Offset mechanisms may include credits that support renewable energy production and context-sensitive reforestation, rehabilitation, and conservation efforts that sequester carbon dioxide in natural reservoirs. In the future, atmospheric carbon capture and storage may also emerge as responsible and effective offsetting options.

Offset mechanisms need to be chosen carefully to ensure that they do not yield negative impacts. Rehabilitation and reforestation efforts can often generate secondary economic and environmental benefits for people and ecosystems. However, they also pose their own ecological risks, and if deployed poorly can lead to a net increase in emissions or other negative environmental and/or socio-economic consequences.

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Managing Resources and Reducing Waste

The Charter commits organizations to responsibly manage and reduce their use of natural resources, including water, and to reduce their waste. This entails making choices about the ways we work; the way our interventions may degrade or deplete natural resources such as groundwater or vegetation; our use of plastic and other non-reusable and non-biodegradable materials; our reasons for and modes of travel; the types of premises we rent or build; and the tools, equipment, and vehicles we use. This also entails factoring in the environmental standards of suppliers and service providers. These measures contribute to reducing Scope 3 emissions and other damaging impacts on the environment such as water pollution, over-burdening public infrastructure, and landfill. Better resource management and waste reduction can lead to efficiencies and cost savings, as can a more conscientious approach to travel, procurement, and the management of our premises.

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Considerations on Targets

Greenhouse gas emissions

Emissions reductions are measured against a baseline representing the level of emissions from a given year. To establish a target, a year in the past, when emissions were lower than the present, against which to measure real reductions, can be used. Another way, likely less ambitious, is to project an organization’s emissions in the future if nothing were to change, under “business as usual” conditions, and commit to reduce emissions against this theoretical level.

Although timelines for achieving emissions reductions can vary slightly, the international community and the scientific literature on climate change have established clear guidelines on what is necessary to meet global goals. Reducing emissions by 40 to 50 % by 2030, compared to 2010, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 are considered the minimum viable targets. A more ambitious target would commit to carbon neutrality well before 2050 and might specify concrete reductions in emissions from an organization’s premises, equipment, and travel.

Waste reduction and resource management

Targets on the sustainable management of resources and reduction in waste are complementary to emissions reduction targets. Sustainable resource use and waste reduction generally lead to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing environmental degradation, pollution, and biodiversity loss.

Ambitious targets may commit to installing water meters and reducing water consumption by a significant percentage in the near-term; setting a date by which no waste will be sent to landfill; and committing to sustainability standards in IT procurement processes. Minimal targets may include introducing recycling standards, decreasing waste, reducing (air) travel and preferring environmentally sustainable transportation options.

Examples of Potential Targets

  • We will adopt an environmental policy by 2024.
  • We will systematically assess the environmental risks of our programmes and implement mitigation measures to reduce the most severe ones.
  • Our organization will be climate neutral by 2050.
  • Single-use plastics will be eliminated from our programmes and premises by 2022.
  • All our e-waste will be recycled by 2025.
  • We will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels.
  • We will reduce our travel-related emissions by 50% by 2025.
  • All our premises will be carbon neutral by 2025.

COMMITMENT 3: Embrace the leadership of local actors and communities

Our action will be guided by the leadership and experience of local actors and communities. We will support them to better prepare for changing climate and environmental risks, and will learn from local, traditional and indigenous knowledge on mitigation and adaptation measures, including nature-based solutions. We will invest in locally-led durable responses. We will also ensure a meaningful and inclusive participation and leadership of local actors and people we serve in the design, management, implementation and evaluation of our programmes.

What does this mean?

Local actors and communities are the first responders to climate and environment shocks and are best placed to assess their needs. The Charter commits organizations to ensure that local institutions, authorities, and communities have better access to decision-making over where and how finances are allocated, programs are designed, and progress is monitored and achieved.

Building a better understanding of climate and environmental risks also requires making more effective use of local, traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices. Climate and environment risks are often context-specific, as are adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities. The Charter commits us to better integrate community-level analysis of risks and vulnerability with scientific research and data. It also commits to investing in locally led durable responses, meaning that programs should contribute to supporting local capacity to manage responses over the long-term.

This commitment notes that effectively embracing local leadership means ensuring participation that is meaningful and inclusive. This means engaging with structural barriers to participation and incorporating considerations of, among others, gender disparity and political, social, and economic marginalization into all phases of the project cycle.

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Considerations on Targets

Many of the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation can be transformed into concrete targets that notably commit organizations to dedicating a portion of funding to local-level actors, deepening local engagement in decision-making, and increasing the percentage of programs that build on existing local initiatives. Organizations may choose to endorse the principles as part of their targets, or draw inspiration from them in developing targets that are aligned with their mandate and size.

Examples of Potential Targets

By 2022, all our advocacy efforts will be informed by local voices and priorities, using appropriate methods and taking concerted action to ensure equal and equitable representation.

COMMITMENT 4: Increase our capacity to understand climate and environmental risks and develop evidence-based solutions

To strengthen our collective capacity to reduce risks, anticipate crises, act early and ensure the sustainability of our activities, we will enhance our understanding of evolving short- and long-term climate and environmental risks and opportunities. When feasible, we will produce and share relevant and accessible data and analysis, to help address data scarcity. We will improve our use of science, evidence, technology and communications to address these risks in all our activities.

What does this mean?

Understanding climate and environmental risks allows humanitarian actors to calibrate responses adequately. Meteorological data and local and indigenous knowledge about patterns of variability should be used to provide risk analyses that are comprehensive, reliable, and relevant. In many places where humanitarian organizations work, relevant data can be scarce or unreliable, and collaboration across the humanitarian sector and beyond to address existing and emergent data gaps is critical.

The capacity to gather and produce this knowledge is not equal across the sector. The Charter commits organizations to sharing relevant and accessible data and analysis where this is feasible. This commitment underscores the importance of knowledge development and of bridging disparities in data access between large organizations with the resources to gather and organize data, and smaller organizations who would benefit from it. It is also designed to promote data-sharing beyond the humanitarian sector, between humanitarian and development organizations, organizations with access to agricultural and meteorological data, governments, and the private sector.

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Considerations on Targets

Organizations with the mandate and capacity to conduct research may wish to devote a proportion of their budget and resources towards better understanding climate and environmental risks and their impact on humanitarian response, and to identifying best practices. Organizations may set targets for investing in programmes and projects that increase our collective capacity to collect and analyze relevant data — for example, by working with communities to develop weather monitoring mechanisms and strategies for recording meteorological data over multi-year timescales.

Examples of Potential Targets

  • By 2025, all relevant staff and partners will be trained on the integration of climate and environmental risks in our programs.
  • By 2022, our data on climate risks in specific countries will be made available to the wider humanitarian sector.
  • By 2023, we will compile examples of good practices on the integration of climate and environmental risks in livelihood programmes.

COMMITMENT 5: Work collaboratively across the humanitarian sector and beyond to strengthen climate and environmental action

We will enhance cooperation across the humanitarian system, in particular between local, national and international actors. We will also work with local and national authorities, environmental, development and human rights actors, international financial institutions, the private sector, researchers, suppliers and donors to ensure a continuum of efforts to manage risks and to develop sustainable interventions. We will notably share our knowledge and insights to help shape people-centred, climate resilient and inclusive development.

What does this mean?

This commitment highlights the importance of collaboration, particularly between local and international actors, and of ensuring that we complement one another, share information, and maximize the capacities of different organizations. It is also about bridging gaps, breaking down silos, and working with actors beyond the humanitarian sector, including development organizations, climate actors, academia and researchers, international financial institutions, and national and local authorities to ensure a continuum of efforts. Access to funding, private-sector partnerships, and donor support must all be harnessed in support of more effective climate and environmental action.

A number of global initiatives and partnerships, such as the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP), strive to strengthen collaboration and connect and scale up existing efforts on early warning-early action and response to gaps and needs identified by countries and communities vulnerable to climate induced disasters.

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Considerations on Targets

Availability and quality of climate and environmental data varies significantly depending on location. As such, organizations may want to initially undertake a mapping to identify what data is available, who has it, what geographical area it covers, and how it might be useful for different activities. For instance, national environmental authorities or regional research institutes might have mapped and/or done projected modelling of flood prone areas or replenishment rate of different aquifers. The second step is to establish partnerships for ongoing collaboration to generate, share and use data from different sources (local communities, scientific research etc.) to inform programming.

Examples of Potential Targets

  • In 2022, we will work in partnership with local and national authorities, civil society organizations and development actors to strengthen water management in conflict-affected cities.
  • By 2025, we will have undertaken and shared a current and projected analysis of climate and environmental risks across all the geographical locations where we work, informed by primary and secondary data from relevant authorities, including research institutes, government and communities.

COMMITMENT 6: Use our influence to mobilize urgent and more ambitious climate action and environmental protection

We call for ambitious action at all levels, by governments, organizations, the private sector and individuals to reduce risks and address the causes and consequences of the climate and environmental crises. We commit to inform and influence decision-making, including relating to laws, policies, investments and practices, with evidence of people’s experience and the current and future humanitarian consequences of the climate and environmental crises. We will also step up our efforts to promote improved implementation of relevant international and national laws, standards, policies and plans for stronger climate action and environmental protection.

What does this mean?

The Charter commits us to work together to foster ambitious action on climate change adaptation and mitigation and to ensure that those who are most vulnerable are not left behind. The humanitarian sector is uniquely placed to influence legal and policy frameworks to better channel resources and attention towards vulnerable and at-risk people. We can leverage our presence, expertise, and insight to work with multilateral development banks to increase funding allocated for adaptation efforts and to direct climate finance towards neglected populations and fragile or conflict-affected countries. Working with local and national governments, we can advise on strengthening disaster and climate-related laws and policies. Through new and existing partnerships with the private sector, humanitarian organizations can push for greater investment in climate-resilient value-chains and commercial infrastructure. Finally, through sector-wide engagement with governments and multilateral institutions, the Charter commits us to advocate for more ambitious climate action and environmental protection, better adherence to existing international agreements, and a greater focus on the impacts of these crises on the communities and people we serve.

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Considerations on Targets

Targets vary depending on the capacity and mandate of the organization. Organizations may want to identify different levels of activities they can take to mobilize more urgent action, from monthly dialogues with community members and local government representatives to hosting and/or attending international climate and environment events.

Examples of Potential Targets

  • By 2025, awareness, understanding and implementation of International Humanitarian Law protecting the environment is strengthened among States and parties to conflict.
  • In 2022, we will engage with our governments, and support our partners to speak with their governments, to persuade them to take ambitious climate action, including increasing financial support for locally led adaptation measures.
  • In 2022, we will facilitate regular meetings between community-members, local government representatives and other partners to support implementation of, and access to finance enabled through, disaster and climate-related laws and policies.
  • In 2022, we will advocate for the strengthening of disaster and climate-related laws and policies in our dialogues with government and in other relevant fora, highlighting the commitments made under the Sendai framework and the Paris agreement.
  • We will engage in the formulation of national climate and environment related policy processes such as NDCs and NAPs, to ensure they prioritize action that benefits the most vulnerable people.