A boat in a dried river bed

Why we need a systemic response to climate change and ecological degradation

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, there was a general consensus that the international development system was in a maelstrom of change.

At Bond, we’ve been exploring what this change might look like, with a view to helping international development actors innovate in response to what is coming and work with local organisations towards better outcomes for the world’s poorest people.

We have identified four transitions where macro trends interact with innovations to drive shifts in the system. These are shared in our infographic report. The first transition we explore is climate change and environmental degradation.

As the pandemic disrupts every aspect of our collective lives, it throws into relief how underprepared and unsustainable our societies are to global emergencies. It also highlights the urgency to take a preventative and proactive approach to the global climate and ecological crisis.

Poverty, environmental degradation and climate change

Climate change exacerbates deeply-rooted structural social injustices, poverty and inequality – combining to create a triple crisis. Environmental degradation is only intensifying, with over a third of the planet’s land already severely degraded, alongside rapid deforestation and loss of species.

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Extreme and erratic weather has a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest. Droughts and floods threaten communities’ livelihoods and displace huge amounts of people. Just the impact on agricultural smallholders is immense: 70% of food production in South Asia is dependent on monsoons, and climate change could lead to reductions in crop yield by 10% in the 2020s. Annual agricultural production in some countries could decrease by 30% by 2050.

This is deeply concerning to Bond members: 80% of CEOs surveyed in our report see the increased impacts of climate change and environmental degradation as a major risk to progress.

Why we need a systemic response

Although this is not news, the interconnected nature of these challenges is often underplayed. Such complexity requires a systemic response. If we can work on poverty, nature loss and climate change together, we can shape a just and sustainable future that works for everyone.

International development organisations need to combine a range of solutions and work with diverse actors to tackle these challenges – the very essence of systems change. Here are three crucial ways we need to respond:

  1. Advocate for policy change that transforms the goals of the system. When we get to COP26, we need to ratchet up global commitments, and financing, so that they are commensurate with the scale of the challenge. Actors from different sectors need to come together to make this happen. As a minimum, that means no investment of aid in fossil fuels. The recovery from Covid-19 gives us an opportunity to rebuild our economic models in a way that protects nature and reduces inequality. For example, using a different measure than GDP could reset our societal goals in a game changing way.
  2. Work with local communities to rethink how development programmes happen. On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I saw a CAFOD, Trocaire and SCIAF project that combined restoration of a habitat around a watershed upstream, with the construction of irrigation systems downstream to support more productive agriculture. The local community worked together to ensure that everyone benefitted. That is just one example of how projects are being designed to build long-term resilience. This project combines livelihoods, nature restoration, climate change and food production. This kind of multifaceted approach needs to happen at all levels and at scale, taking a supply chain or context-based approach. At the same time, humanitarian actors and donors need to be ready to ramp up their response to increasing crises.
  3. Look hard at reducing organisational environmental impact. Systems change happens, in part, by adding up individual actions. International development organisations need to play their part and learn from each other about their own performance. Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of a locally-led response, which INGOs can support by giving decision-making power and resources to local actors – which also reduces the need to travel and helps the sector move to a more Net Zero approach.

The pandemic has disrupted life as we know it, but it is likely the start, not the end, of change. Responding in a way that shifts the system so that what results is more sustainable is something we all need to grasp with both hands.

Now is the moment to use disruption to push towards the transformation that is needed to address climate change and environmental degradation. Bond is committed to supporting the sector to tackle this emergency. Let us know if you want to get involved.