In the wake of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, World Food Programme (WFP) was invited to this year’s Philea Forum to shape a session about climate action – and share some perspectives on how philanthropic organisations can help countries and communities transition from the reactive and repetitive management of climate disasters to a more strategic and forward-looking management of climate risks and scenarios.
In partnership with colleagues from the World Bank, we structured this session as a simulation game in which participants were asked to put themselves into the shoes of different government ministries and make investment allocations under great time pressure and against the backdrop of unpredictable climate impacts – as well as other globalised crises that were compounding the situation (such as the covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine). Over 120 people have participated in this session, and many walked away with the realisation that the climate crisis is nothing that will happen in the future – but rather, that it already represents a daily reality for governments and communities around the world. I also hope that many walked away with a sense that we aren’t just forced to absorb these impacts with ever more donations and finance allocations, but that there are solutions to manage these uncertainties with an anticipatory mindset. And that philanthropic organisations can work together with humanitarian and development partners to bring these solutions to scale before we cross dangerous climate tipping points over the next two decades.
On a personal level, one realisation I am taking away from this year’s Philea Forum relates to the importance of hope in climate action. WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation in the United Nations System, supporting 115 million food insecure people in over 120 countries and territories each year. Whenever I open my laptop in the morning and look at the latest figures describing how many people are trapped in food crises or emergencies, then this is not very conducive to maintaining an optimistic view of our future. In 2019, there were 135 million people suffering from acute hunger while two years later, this number has more than doubled. Organisations such as WFP are putting all hands on deck to help people survive at the intersection between climate extremes, conflicts and skyrocketing food prizes – but it is certainly difficult to maintain hope for the world if you witness hunger numbers rise exponentially and an international aid system at breaking point.
Participating in the session ‘Envisioning a Better World – Shifting the Climate Paradigm to Health and Hope’, has helped me take a step back from our omni-present bad news cycles and realise that there are alternative ways of looking at the world as well. Talking about escalating problems in the climate space can certainly raise a great deal of attention – but at the same time, it carries a risk that people become overwhelmed by the sheer size or perceived inevitability of the issue. What we should not lose sight of in our day jobs is the fact that we also need a positive vision of the future in order to be effective – and that we need some evidence-based hope (rather than naïve optimism) that we can actually get there. Amidst the daily fight against the windmills of hunger, poverty, fragility and climate disruption, not everyone who is working in the world of international aid or philanthropy can maintain a clear picture of how an alternative and more positive future could look like. Yet it pays off on a personal as well as professional level to visualise the world we want ourselves and our children to live in, and to draw energy from that. Judging from the many conversations I had with colleagues at this year’s Philea Forum, I am positive that WFP’s collaboration with philanthropic organisations will be firmly aligned with such a shared vision.
Gernot Laganda is leading the Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programs at the United Nations World Food Programme