After attending this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, Humanity & Inclusion representatives share their experience and the organization’s next steps for including disability advocacy in climate action.
Below, you'll hear from Jennifer M'Vouama, Humanity & Inclusion's Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Policy & Development Advocate, as well as George Graham, Chief Executive for HI-UK.
Q: How would you describe Humanity & Inclusion’s participation at COP26?
Jennifer: This year was the first time Humanity & Inclusion 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 Humanity & Inclusion’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 Humanity & Inclusion, alongside partners CBM UK, the International Development Association and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiatives, 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 Humanity & Inclusion 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.
George: 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 (panelists pictured below) 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 seven 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. If not, frankly, it’s a matter of life and death.
Q: After attending this event, what are the next steps for Humanity & Inclusion regarding climate change and disaster risk reduction?
Jennifer: Given the urgency of the climate crisis and its humanitarian impacts, Humanity & Inclusion is determined to scale up our efforts for inclusive disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate action on the ground for communities and individuals at risk. Among other initiatives, 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 Humanity & Inclusion to be inclusive and equitable. Our organization will continue to advocate globally and locally for disability inclusive climate action, alongside partners from the disability movement through various coalitions and networks.
George: The next steps for Humanity & Inclusion in terms of climate change disaster risk reduction are that we have got to be involved in conversations about preparedness, localization 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 at-risk populations, and that includes people with disabilities and other marginalized groups.
Q: Were you aware of accessibility barriers to COP26?
Jennifer: 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.
George: 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 Humanity & Inclusion and our partners, CBM, IDA, and others were the exception to that. The event that we participated in was much more inclusive and accessible.
Humanity & Inclusion's GREEN Initiative
Humanity & Inclusion 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. Humanity & Inclusion is also determined to reduce its own ecological footprint by adapting and implementing environmentally conscious approaches to humanitarian action.