- May 4, 2021

On 29 April 2021, the International Disability Alliance, the European Disability Forum, the Pacific Disability Forum, Stakeholders Group of Persons with Disabilities for Sustainable Development, United Nations High Commission for Refugees and International Displacement Monitoring Center co-hosted an event in the framework of the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) 2021 to discuss the relationship between disability and climate change. As the first one in the history of HNPW, the event focused on the urgent need to build bridges between disability rights, environmental and climate justice movements to ensure that no one is left behind in the context of unpredictable weather patterns (i.e., drought, hurricanes, storms).

The event was attended by more than 65 individuals including humanitarian actors, climate activists, disability inclusion experts and academics. The webinar discussion was chaired by Gordon Ratray from the European Disability Forum. The main topics were:

  • Impact of the climate crisis on persons with disabilities including displacement.
  • Relationship between enhancing disability inclusion and accessibility and combatting climate crisis.
  • Measures are taken to enhance disability inclusion in response to climate crisis including from the intersectionality perspective.

Opening remarks were presented by Jose Viera, President of the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities in Sustainable Development and CEO of the World Blind Union

In his opening remarks, Jose Viera highlighted that it is important to include persons with disabilities in the climate change action. However, the critical question that needs to be tackled, according to Jose Viera, is “How can we ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities?”

He suggested that we need to (1) Create and strengthen relevant partnerships, (2) Formalise advocacy groups where persons with disabilities are actively participating in climate change action, and (3) Ensure that what we agree on at the international level is implemented and effective at the national levels.

Sainimili Tawake, Regional Coordinator on Climate Change, Pacific Disability Forum (PDF), presented on the topic Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities: What is happening in the Pacific?

She reported that in the Pacific, PDF carried out a pilot study in three countries looking for the impact of climate change on persons with disabilities. They are currently finalizing the report of the study, but the preliminary findings show that persons with disabilities are barely included in climate action.  This is exacerbated by a very few or no budget allocation for this cause.

  • The issues concerning people with disabilities are being neglected and barely addressed. The services and the environment, including public attitude, are unfriendly.
  • Many persons with disabilities do not understand climate change even if they experience the consequences of it. Sainimili Tawake suggested that we need to increase the awareness among persons with disabilities and engage the policymakers on it.
  • Accessible infrastructure related to displacement is missing, evacuation centres are not accessible, they are overcrowded and there is not enough privacy.

As the second panellist, Louisa Yasukawa, a researcher with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Introduced the Joint Factsheet on Disability, Displacement, and Climate Change. This factsheet is a joint publication of The International Disability Alliance, UNHCR’s office for the Special Advisor on Climate Action, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). Luisa Yasukawa highlighted that we do not know how many people are living in displacement, but we know there are high rates of persons with disabilities living as refugees in low-income countries.

  • Displacement represents risks at many stages for persons with disabilities, they are at risk of being excluded from disaster preparedness, of finding barriers in accessible livelihoods, housing, health and other services; of being separate from their support persons, and of suffering violence and discrimination.
  • We need greater participation, an intersectional approach and better data. IDMC is trying to collect data in 10 countries of the global south and publish a report at the end of the year.
  • However, even if data are missing, the presence of persons with disabilities among the displaced population is a fact and should be addressed.

Next in the panel, Elham Youssefian, Inclusive Humanitarian Action and DRR advisor of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) presented on the topic Disability Inclusion and Accessibility: The forgotten weapons in fighting the climate crisis.

 As expressed by Elham Youssefian, every human being has a role to play in Climate change, so there is no reason not to include persons with disabilities.

  • Considering disability will contribute to green activism, for instance, about climate-friendly WASH services: if a person with disabilities can use a latrine in a camp, it means less contamination. Accessible WASH policies will reach more people and contribute to reduce the environmental impact.
  • Persons with disabilities must be seen as agents of change, how many persons with disabilities are participating in climate change actions? If we make them accessible, we can reach more people.
  • Climate change activists can count on us, persons with disabilities, and be sure that we will do our best, we are used to take action.  
  • We must ensure that green policies are inclusive and accessible, no harm principle should always be applied. Ban of using plastic straws. For instance, some persons with disabilities need plastic straws, so we should take a look to be careful of not causing No Harm.
  • Consultations are key, persons with disabilities are everywhere, we have a common goal: saving the planet, so let’s talk and share knowledge.

Sébastien Jodoin, Director of the Disability-Inclusive Climate Action Research Program, McGill University was the next panellist.

Professor Jodoin highlighted the preamble to the Paris Agreement in which States should include vulnerable populations including persons with disabilities. He added that within the UNCRPD Climate change is not really addressed. He addressed that there is nothing very concrete more of list inclusion and that some other groups are receiving more attention. For instance, there are report and capacity building on gender and climate change and on indigenous populations and climate change, we need a similar set of actions about persons with disabilities and climate change.

Furthermore, there is no established constituency under the UNFCCC towards people with disabilities while Article 4 of the CRPD obligates states to include persons with disabilities in all their policies and consult them about any decisions impacting them.

Asha Hans, Founder Director, School of Women's Studies, Utkal University, India, presented on Intersectionality approach and underrepresented groups of persons with disabilities in climate action discourse.

When we talk about gender and intersectionality, we do a binary approach. In terms of climate change we don’t talk that much about age, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, those are the intersectionalities we should look at. Climate change is different according to several factors’ persons with disabilities.

On the Indian coastline, many villages disappeared causing immense migrations. Women do not migrate, persons depending on their cast do not migrate. Most of them do not have water, cannot do agriculture. Persons with disabilities are suffering the effects of climate change more than others. Migration is part of an adaptation process, when persons are displaced, it is the duty of the state to provide a proper location.

Women with disabilities were in the groups of persons who find a new home but they were not accessible.

We have been working with the government, now the climate action plan included women and persons with disabilities.

According to Asha Hans, what needs to be done is the following:

  • Produce disaggregated data,
  • Include persons with disabilities in Climate Action
  • Build partnerships between OPDs and the United Nations
  • Improve our understanding of adaptation.
  • Develop a two-years stakeholder commitment including women with disabilities.
  • Empower women with disabilities at the grassroots levels.
  • Apply principles of universal design, reasonable accommodation and assistive technology.

>> Learn more about Disability Inclusive Climate Action here

Video Recording of the event

Persons with Disabilities and Climate Action: how we can be more inclusive?

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