While the primary objective of humanitarian work is to save lives and reduce human suffering, this doesn’t have to mean ignoring the environment and climate. Conversely, by paying attention to the environmental and climate impacts of humanitarian operations, effectiveness of the aid provided can be improved.
Gaia has supported the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the first phase of developing a green supply chain strategy and an environmental impact analysis toolkit for humanitarian supply chains. To accommodate this, we calculated the greenhouse gas emissions from the logistical operations of three major humanitarian operations and selected relief items. Also, the best environmental management practices of major global commercial logistics operators as well as those of humanitarian organizations were analyzed. This enables IFRC to understand the climate impacts of their supply chains and to develop their logistics to be more efficient, transparent and less carbon intensive.
The results of our study indicate that a significant share of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of humanitarian operations occur from logistics, as transporting goods to the affected areas has a major role in most response operations. The supply chains of the relief items are often global, and large quantities of goods are transported by air in order to reach the destination swiftly. By paying attention to transportation routes, storage locations and capacities, as well as expected time of utilization of the goods, substantial emission reductions can be unlocked. This does not only benefit the climate but can also enable significant monetary savings allowing more relief to be delivered to those in need.
Another aspect related to the environmental impacts has to do with the items procured and supplied. Especially the materials and the source of energy used in the production of the goods have a drastic impact on their carbon footprint. In some cases, the footprint of an item produced using renewable energy can be only a third of the similar one manufactured utilizing fossil fuels. Correspondingly, promotion of renewable and recyclable materials can have a major impact on the lifetime emissions of a single item.
Considering the environment at large may also contribute to the resilience of the communities affected by a disaster. “With environmentally conscious practices in procurement and operations, the well-being of the people affected can be improved also in the longer time perspective,” notes Mathieu Grenade, Program Manager for Procurement and Supply Chain Excellence in the IFRC Asia Pacific Regional Logistics.
“The warming climate is a main driver for natural disasters globally. By understanding and managing the climate impacts of relief operations, humanitarian organizations can decrease the emissions from the aid provided, and also reduce the risk of new climate born disasters. Their example will also encourage communities, organizations and even countries to join the fight against the climate change,” states Paula Tommila, Business Manager at Gaia.