The United Nations’ latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is undoubtedly the strongest warning yet that a failure to address the causes of climate change will be disastrous. No country or state will be spared. It proves what we’ve known for years: Faster and more efficient measures must be taken if we want to see meaningful environmental changes in the next few decades. At the same time, we must do a better job helping those already dealing with catastrophe.
As the head of the Baltimore-based global charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS), I’m alarmed by how fast the planet’s changes are impacting the communities we serve. For example, in Southern Madagascar, families are surviving prolonged drought by eating insects, wilted cactus leaves and wild berries. In Guatemala, farmers in the Dry Corridor are migrating to make money after erratic rainfall and horrendous storms ruined their crops. In communities from the Middle East to southern Asia, the climate crisis has been equally devastating.
To be sure, the suffering already being inflicted by climate change is not limited to what’s happening overseas. This summer’s record-breaking heat waves across the Pacific Northwest and the devastating wildfires fires scorching California are proof of that. In Maryland, we’re the fourth most vulnerable state to the effects of sea-level rise.
So, what can be done to adapt to these changes so that life is survivable?
There are signs of hope in recent legislation. The Biden administration has announced $3.5 billion in new funding to help communities in the United States increase resilience to climate impacts. In addition, the U.S. Senate passed an infrastructure bill that would include funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration. These are positive developments for those of us who live in Maryland and across the country. But this same type of investment needs to be made to help vulnerable communities overseas.
For example, the U.S. should significantly increase its support of the Green Climate Fund, which was set up as the primary way for countries to fund climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. A substantial portion of the Green Climate Fund gets directed toward countries most at risk. In August, before leaving for recess, the U.S. House passed its Fiscal Year 2022 State and Foreign Operations bill. Their bill provides $1.6 billion for the Green Climate Fund, in addition to other important climate-related investments, which in total equals $3 billion. We urge the Senate to follow suit and see these investments through.
In the meantime, organizations like CRS are on the front lines of the climate crisis. Across Africa, we work with farmers using climate-smart agriculture techniques. In countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, we’re helping communities in low-lying areas prepare for storms. In Central America, we’re helping farmers protect their soil and make more efficient use of scarce water. Some of the projects fueling this work are already funded by the U.S. government and other generous donors. Additional investments from the public and private sectors could take these programs to scale.
We’re lucky to have world leaders like Pope Francis championing change. In his second encyclical, Laudato Si, he called for collective action to confront the environmental challenges ahead. In it, he reminds us to be hopeful, writing, “All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves and choosing again what is good and making a new start.”
Now is the time for us to heed his words, to rise above our inertia and partisan squabbles, and make a new start. For many of the communities where we work, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Sean L. Callahan (Sean.Callahan@crs.org) is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.