The Pardee Papers, No. 7, December 2009


Linking Climate Knowledge and Decisions: Humanitarian Challenges

By Pablo Suarez

December 2009 (46 pages)
IBSN 978-0-9825683-1-6
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Future atmospheric conditions are increasingly predictable as a result of scientific and technological advances. From short-term storm forecasts to long-term climate trends, humanitarian organizations now have an unprecedented ability to anticipate threats to people at risk. At the same time, vulnerability patterns are shifting as a result of ongoing processes such as urbanization and the AIDS pandemic, which present complex and dynamic interactions with climate risks. The future looks different: more natural hazards combined with new vulnerabilities will continue to increase the workload of already overstretched humanitarian organizations. Against this background, the complexity and range of possible humanitarian decisions is rapidly expanding, owing to progress in technologies to obtain, process, communicate, and use relevant information, as well as new financial instruments, trends in academic institutions and other promising developments. Humanitarian organizations are adapting to new climate risks, vulnerability patterns, and decision capacity. Yet, regrettably, their efforts seem to be outpaced by the changing threats and opportunities. In order to reduce this gap, it will not be enough to simply train existing staff on new tools, or expand the staff and volunteer base: the humanitarian sector needs to fundamentally restructure its relationship to knowledge-based entities that can rapidly absorb and act upon the increasingly reliable information about changing risks. This will require not just partnering with key stakeholders, but essentially reconfiguring decision-making processes. Many of the potentially catastrophic climate-related disasters could be managed by the humanitarian sector through adequate monitoring of key system variables, and a systematic approach for preparing to act in response to the many plausible early signs of problems.

Pablo Suarez is a Visiting Fellow at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, as well as Associate Director of Programs for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, and consultant for the United Nations Development Programme. He has consulted for Oxfam America and numerous international humanitarian and development organizations, working in more than 40 countries. His current work addresses institutional integration across disciplines and geographic scales, and the use of innovative tools for risk management. He holds a master’s degree in community planning and development, and a PhD in geography.