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Impact of climate change on vulnerable populations and the role of housing

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There is a lot to discuss when unpacking the issue of climate change. Especially when it relates to vulnerable populations and the role of housing within them.

For example, looking at the existing measures in place for adapting to climate change. Do they take into consideration the cities and the urban poor? There are also the realities of the increasing rates of displacement.

Another aspect worth exploring is how we can provide more comprehensive and multiscale disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Also, up for discussion is the intersection between the need to increase access to housing and the reality of the high carbon footprint of the construction sector.

So, where do we start on this complex topic?

The Discussion on Climate Change

Many of us anticipate the increase in climate change. However, not everyone agrees on what the degree of this change will be.

The consensus from the scientific community is unsettling. Sea levels will rise. Flooding will increase. Heatwaves will be more regular and increasingly intense. It’s a reality we will all face.

According to the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest study, climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe with human influence, contributing to many observed changes in weather and climate extremes.

Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years. Global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in at least the last 3,000 years.

If you look at the hard data of our recent past, you’ll see the impacts already. Over the past decade, climate and weather-related disasters have directly impacted 1.7 billion people. 83% of disasters triggered by natural hazards in the last decade are caused by extreme weather. But just in the previous year, 30.7 million people were internally displaced by natural disasters. For 98% of these individuals, it was due to climate-related weather hazards.

Climate change affects everyone. But it disproportionately affects the world’s poorest. These people contribute the least to these events.

What Can Help Reduce Vulnerability and Strengthen Preparedness?

The only way to reduce risk in the face of more climate-related hazards is to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of people.

As the world continues to develop and evolve, our level of exposure and vulnerability are being shaped by the nature of development planning and investment decisions. It could be land use, urban planning, infrastructure, as well as measures to reduce poverty and inequality. It even involves the management of the natural environment around us.

Creating safer and more equitable cities as well as supporting diversified livelihoods can reduce the number of people at risk from weather and climate-related disasters. But mobilizing communities is an essential component of all these efforts. But to do any of this well, we need to have the humanitarian-development and climate environment sector to collaborate more than they have ever before.

What Support is Required for Displaced Communities?

There are approximately 82 million forcibly displaced people.

They have been displaced for multiple reasons, and one of the most common is related to the climate.

Experts recommend that a proactive approach is needed. There need to be more effective partnerships with governments to take action before significant displacement actions take place. It requires looking at the trends around current displacement and future projections to see where to focus efforts.

What Value Can Non-Governmental Organizations Bring to Reducing Vulnerability?

The most obvious role that non-governmental organizations play is linked to localization. It’s primarily in terms of community, mobilization, coordination, and education. They support communities on the ground. They build their adaptative capacities and put in place interventions that look to tackle climate change.

It allows communities to contribute their own knowledge. They can share experiences and help form ideas for vulnerability reduction. They also provide their understanding of risks.

Non-governmental organizations also work with government departments and key stakeholders in the private sector on similar aspects of capacity building. Other times, they will work as facilitators. They’ll bring together multiple stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. The role here is to ensure everyone understands one another, whether it be through communication or language barriers. It helps ensure effective collaboration.

But the most value non-governmental organizations bring in reducing vulnerability is demonstrating accountability. It could be to government departments. Sometimes it’s the NGOs themselves, especially when they have facilitated communities to have a voice at the table. It also involves the programs and how they work with local actors to reduce vulnerability.

What is the Next Step?

Experts are recommending that more intensive action is required to tackle climate change. The cost of doing nothing will one day become something that the world will not be able to afford. There is a need to invest in solving the root problems instead of fighting over what the symptoms are.

The good news is that the legal regulations regarding new housing construction in countries that contribute the most to this issue are taking a more energy-efficient approach. But more urgent intervention is still required, and a need to collaborate differently.

Do you want to be part of the action? Sign up to find out about upcoming events, interviews, and articles on the future of housing.

Moderator: James Schell – Senior Manager: Middle East & North Africa, Habitat for Humanity International


  • Marta Pena – Shelter Senior Officer for Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • Brett Moore – UNHCR – Chief of Shelter and Settlements Section
  • Alina Muzioł-Węcławowicz – World Urban Forum
  • Karimi Gitonga – Asia Regional Technical Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

Interested in learning more?