The human face of climate crisis

Dr Sabin Bieri, Director, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) - University of Bern and Member of the Foundation Board, Swisscontact20.09.2023

It was a goose-bump moment in June 2023, at an international academic conference in Nairobi, when a participant told his mother’s story. A Maasai community member, she had been the owner of 115 head of cattle until November last year; 103 of the animals have since died. The backbone of the family’s income has vanished, the grief over the loss is overwhelming, and the pride of the former herd owner is hurt.

The facts are crystal clear. The population segments who contribute least to global warming are those who tend to be most affected. The reasons for this mismatch are threefold.

Firstly, vulnerable populations such as pastoralists or small-scale farming families depend most on natural resources for their livelihoods. Global warming tends to produce more variability in weather conditions, as illustrated in the above-mentioned case of the Maasai woman in Tanzania. The rains were delayed for weeks, if they came at all, and rainfall was well below average for the fourth consecutive year. Local knowledge to respond to extreme weather conditions, built and passed on for centuries between generations, is being devalued. Animals perish, harvests fail, incomes dwindle, and nutrition is scant. As resources become scarcer by the day, the pressures and claims on their use increase, and conflicts surge.

Secondly, the world’s most vulnerable populations are at the frontline of the climate crisis. Many of the countries Swisscontact works in, for instance in the Sahel region or Central America, are heavily affected by the combined effects of low climate readiness and high fragility. These countries have very limited means to counter the consequences of global warming. With weak institutions and a lack of resources for even the most basic provisions, people are highly exposed to crises. 

Thirdly, most developing countries are geographically exposed. Climate scenarios have demonstrated the devastating effects of global warming and humidity on food-, energy- and water-security in countries of the global South. If the global community fails to reduce carbon emissions, the temperature of the atmosphere will rise by 4 degrees C by the time our grandchildren have grown up. They will struggle with what has been termed a “steam bath earth” where, throughout large zones of the globe, limits of human survivability will have been exceeded as a result of heat stress.

Responding to volatile conditions and increasing complexity

Against the background of these terrifying scenarios, development cooperation is continuously adapting tools and approaches. Strengthening the resilience of the disadvantaged is at the heart of Swisscontact’s work – without it, skills cannot unfold, nor will private initiative. On the other hand, global efforts towards a green transition also bring opportunities for disadvantaged populations, if we are able to shape the economy to be equitable and inclusive, generating income and green jobs that are accessible to these people. Global warming must be factored into any intervention that aims to improve the living standards of the most deprived populations.  

The current newsletter edition illuminates Swisscontact’s work in a wide variety of contexts, both urban and rural, under the conditions of global warming.

How Swisscontact projects contribute to climate change mitigation and adaption

Testeo Laboratory in Bucaramanga, Colombia

Shifting to sustainable construction practices and technologies can act as a game changer; this is the story of Colombia + Competitiva, where Swisscontact aims to catalyse the competitiveness of businesses through an improved enabling environment and effective public sector policies. Find out here how a practical laboratory from Switzerland was replicated in Colombia to test innovative practices for sustainable construction.

Construction machinery, Mexiko City

The combination of air pollution and carbon emissions exacerbate existing threats to human health and well-being, causing thousands of premature deaths in urban environments. The Clean Air in Latin American Cities Calac+ Project fosters the transition to more sustainable public transport and, together with municipal governments, envisages a reduction of ultra-fine particles stemming mainly from the construction sector and industry.

Tahmina Begun, business woman in Bangladesh

The spotlight on the Bangladesh-based M4C Project illustrates the value added through a systemic and gender-responsive approach for the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices. In a highly fragile ecosystem, the project seeks to improve the livelihoods of a marginalised population group, with a special eye on women producers who are all too often bypassed by technical approaches.

Through targeted information, the project supports the struggle against erosion, reduces disaster risk, improves market access, and provides financial services, all of which contribute to reducing the vulnerability of local communities. The gender focus is crucial for successful implementation, because it addresses the specific competences and needs of women, and it supports an efficient, yet fair allocation of time within families.

Anchoring solutions for effective local ownership

Global warming comes on top of conditions which have been unfavourable for decades, with the poorest being hardest hit. The rural population in the global south not only struggle with climate induced weather alterations, but also with a politically driven land-use change aiming to crowd them out – including their livelihood practices.

Swisscontact, through constant and long-term collaboration with local partners, is well equipped to take on the additional challenge that comes with global warming. Our fundamental principle is to understand the local socio-economic realities and landscapes, and to anchor solutions sustainably in the local systems.  

While climate change adds complexity to the already overwhelmingly challenging field of development cooperation, it does not fundamentally question Swisscontact’s approach for sustainable development. Rather, it forces us to rethink critically, and through the lens of climate induced changes, how our principles and approaches can become even more responsive to the needs and expectations of our partners on the ground, to improve their resilience in the face of multiple crises.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Sustainable tourism
Colombia + Competitiva - Strengthening the Competitiveness of the Private Sector
The Programme aims to support Colombia in its systematic efforts to improve the competitiveness of its private sector in the framework of the National System of Competitiveness, Science, Technology and Innovation and its Productive Development Policy.
"Colombia + Competitiva" follows a programmatic and systemic approach with clear ownership of the...
Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru
Green cities
Climate and Clean Air project in Latin American Cities Plus (CALAC+)
The Paris Climate Agreement adopted in December 2015 provides a clear signal from countries towards reducing emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts within the transport sector.Thanks to its management and technical expertise, Switzerland contributes significantly to the transformation of cleaner transport in Latin American cities,...
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Making Markets Work for the Jamuna, Padma and Teesta Chars (M4C)
To reduce vulnerability and increase wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalised char dwellers living in the northern char region of Bangladesh. Chars are riverine land, susceptible to erosion and soil deposition, which remain disconnected from mainland either seasonally or throughout the year. Due to this unique geographical positioning,...