International Conference for a Green and Inclusive Economy – 6 & 7 October 2015

Published: 7 October 2015
Robert Tickner, IFRC Acting Under Secretary General for Partnerships, with Jean-Michel Cousteau, founder of Ocean Futures Society and President of Green Cross France, at the International Conference for a Green and Inclusive Economy (Photo: IFRC)

International Conference for a Green and Inclusive Economy – 6 & 7 October 2015

Geneva Switzerland

Keynote address by Robert Tickner Acting Under Secretary General Partnerships of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation  



It is an honour to be here to this important international Conference for a Green and Inclusive Economy.

I am sorry that my Secretary General Elhadj As Sy cannot be with you today as he has a long standing commitment in Vienna but sends you greetings for a successful finish to your important conference.

It is true to say that as we gather here today that we are on the eve of two of the most important intergovernmental meetings in human history. The outcomes of these meetings have the capacity to determine the longer term fate of many hundreds of millions of people and indeed potentially the very future of life on earth.

In a little over two months the United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris. Then in May of 2016 the first World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Istanbul which will bring together governments, humanitarian organisations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions to some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation is deeply engaged with the momentous issues raised by both these global world events in what we do in our everyday work. Our Federation is made up of 189 Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies present in almost every country on earth. We are deeply engaged in work in our communities to tackle the challenges of global poverty and in building healthy and sustainable societies. We also work to promote social inclusion and promote a culture of non-violence and peace in the world and in the communities we serve.

However our very first strategic objective is to “save lives, protect livelihoods, and strengthen recovery from disasters and crises” which I particularly want to focus on today. It is also in that context that we are also deeply aware that climate change and environmental degradation have immediate consequences on the lives and livelihoods of the people we serve. Risks are already on the rise, jeopardizing hard-won development gains and posing formidable challenges to people and communities around the world.

Our Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement operates under our Fundamental principles which guide the work we do and one of those fundamental principles is neutrality.  This means that we do not  take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. However this does not mean we are mute on issues and principles which must be advocated to protect and advance our neutral and impartial humanitarian agenda.  In doing this we never engage in party politics

In that context therefore we recognise and share the concerns of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  which  has demonstrated that the science on climate change is now unequivocal. The reports of the IPCC confirm that extremes are on the rise and that the most vulnerable people, particularly in developing countries, face the brunt of impacts.

Millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers – from rural villages and remote island states to large urban centres – can testify to this reality. Over recent years, they have spoken of the drying of the lands, the escalating loss of trees and the increasing intensity of extreme weather events.

Addressing climate change and environmental degradation are therefore an integral part of the work that the Red Cross and Red Crescent does in communities worldwide.

A resilient community can manage its natural assets. It recognises their value and has the ability to protect, enhance and maintain them. This is an outcome of our work aimed at gaining a better understanding of the state of resilience across communities.

The IFRC and its 189 members, are taking serious steps to promote environmental values and practices through advocacy and social mobilization in the context of disaster risk reduction and resilience building programming. 

The expertise of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers in disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts, and their continued and trusted presence within local communities, holds great potential for an increased capacity to contributing to the implementation of environment-friendly behaviours and programmes.

Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have a long track record in public awareness and education, crucial components in promoting environmentally sustainable living.

By spreading environmental values and best practices within their extensive network, through education programs and awareness campaigns, they can mobilize millions of volunteers and contribute to climate friendly behaviour and action such as tree planting and care, solid waste management, food waste minimization and recycling.


In Indonesia and Nicaragua, the Red Cross has implemented solid waste management, minimization of litter and recycling programmes, leading to a decrease of the amount of rubbish going into canals and rivers and clogging drains, thus reducing the risk of floods in the area.

Since 1994, the Vietnam Red Cross has been planting and protecting mangrove forests along the coast as these mangroves are effective carbon sinks. They provide a wealth of nutrients for marine life, prevent soil erosion, promote reef development and can also offer sustainable sources of food and building materials. They are also the first line of defence against rising waters and thus can have a marked impact on the scale of disaster during a typhoon or storm surge.

The Grenada Red Cross, the Government of Grenada and the Nature Conservancy and the Grenada Fund for Conservation developed a partnership, which has demonstrated how sharing  community and environmental expertise through education, mangrove replanting and coral reef protection can help to reduce disaster risk and strengthen the capacity of local communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Colombian Red Cross is also working with local businesses, forming Green Committees made up of employees of these local companies to raise awareness and champion good environmental behaviour.   

Actions are also being taken through partnerships between the IFRC, Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, and their governments at a national level.


The Sustainable Environment Restoration Programme in Kenya is a long-term partnership between the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources of Kenya, the Kenya Red Cross Society and the IFRC, to plant and care for 2.5 billion trees, to restore river basins, and to conduct environmental education in all schools and to manage solid waste.

The IFRC also recently signed a long-term agreement with the Iranian Red Crescent Society and the Department of Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran on “Protection of Environment and Sustainable Development” with a special focus on youth and volunteers

In the context of relief and response operations, the primary purpose of humanitarian organizations is obviously to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. However National Societies are also exploring ways to mainstream environmental considerations and take action to reduce their ecological footprint.


Adopting ‘green response’ principles will help avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse impacts to natural environments and subsequent negative consequences on people’s vulnerability.

The Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit was for example developed soon after the Indian Ocean tsunami through a partnership between the American Red Cross and the World Wildlife Fund. It was originally tested in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and has since been used in Chile, Haiti, India, and Pakistan to ensure that recovery programmes include environmentally sustainable considerations. This initiative was recognised with the Green Star Awards two years ago.

Another self-assessment tool was recently developed by the IFRC, in cooperation with Building Research Establishment Limited (BRE), to promote sustainable approaches to relief, recovery and reconstruction after a natural disaster.

These various initiatives serve as models for all our members across the globe, and we very much look forward to seeing more Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies engaging and partnering with their governments, the business community and civil society to promote the environmental agenda within humanitarian settings for the benefit of the most vulnerable communities.

As a civilisation we have to get smarter and not just wait for the disasters to happen and instead invest in advance.

The evidence is in that building community resilience, identifying risks, and investing in disaster preparation and risk reduction we can not only save hundreds of millions of lives but we can also save billions of dollars in public and private funding which goes now to cleaning up the mess and rebuilding and sadly sometimes not even rebuilding better.

This is an argument which can now wonderfully unite bleeding hearted humanitarians (of which I am one) and conservative economic rationalists.

I do however need to make a critical point at this juncture and that is that communities can not be expected to always build resilience acting on their own.

There is an increasing mountain of evidence that Government expenditure in building resilience and disaster preparedness saves money and saves lives. Some people call this the resilience dividend and it means that if Governments invest public funds now we will all get a clear and substantial return both in terms of saving lives and reduced government expenditure in disaster recovery down the track.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are very committed to building partnerships with other key stakeholder including governments to promote resilience. It is for this reason that the IFRC at the third UN International Conference on disaster risk reduction in Sendai in March this year launched an initiative to scale-up community and civil action on resilience which we proudly call the “One Billion Coalition for Resilience.” Our goal is to work with key partnerships globally and locally to engage at least one person in every household around the world in active steps towards strengthening their resilience by the year 2025.



I would like to give an example of an exciting partnership committed to these ideals which was formed in my own country of Australia and which has achieved global recognition. I was formerly the CEO of Australian Red Cross and in that capacity was a member of the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities.  The membership of this Roundtable included Australia’s largest insurance company IAG as well as major property and telecommunications companies.

The Roundtable took the case to Government to argue for upfront investment in building community resilience and in disaster risk reduction. We managed to convince the Australian Government to commission the  Productivity Commission (an Independent statutory authority which provides research and advice to the Australian Government on economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians) to conduct a public inquiry into disaster funding.

A key finding of the Enquiry was that “Governments over invest in post-disaster reconstruction and underinvest in mitigation that would limit the impact of natural disasters in the first place. As such natural disasters have become a growing, unfunded liability for Governments”.

For our work the Roundtable was awarded second place out of a record 88 global entries in the UN Sasakawa award for Disaster Reduction in Sendai Japan in March this year.

This is a model of partnership between a leading humanitarian organisation and the business community and wider civil society which could easily be exported to the world. It has so much to offer to help get that critical message to all Governments that they can save lives and at the same time save money by investing in community resilience and in making very significant savings in public expenditure by not waiting until the disaster occurs.

I commend this model to you and urge that others consider taking it up in their own country.

With the upcoming scaling up of our ‘One Billion Coalition for Resilience’, we intend to bring together a wide range of like-minded individuals and organizations to form new partnerships that expand our reach to engage more local communities across the globe.

I could not end this contribution to without making one final essential contribution to your deliberations and I commend Green Cross  your founder Mr Gorbachev  for the commitment shown to rid the world of nuclear weapons.


Many of you know, but some may not, that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement led by the International Committee of the Red Cross has played a leading role in shifting the global debate on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons as a weapon of war. I have been honoured to have been working closely on this issue with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies over the last 5 years and our efforts and those of civil society and concerned governments are now bearing fruit.



We have taken a policy stand as a Movement to “to pursue in good faith and conclude with urgency and determination negotiations to prohibit the use of and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding international agreement, based on existing commitments and international obligations”.

This decision was taken in 2011 at our Council of Delegates and reaffirmed in 2013. It has been welcomed by the majority of Governments in the world. It has been one of the critical factors which has significantly contributed to the first three International Conferences of Government focussing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons which have been held in Oso Norway in March of 2013, Nayarit Mexico in February 2014 and in Vienna Australia in May of 2015.

There are now over 118 countries who have committed themselves to support the Austrian Pledge which in part calls for the nations of the world “to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, States, International Organisations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements, parliamentarians and civil society, in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks.”

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement recognises that if our civilisation has been able to tackle the scourge of chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions it is now time to prohibit the use of the most threatening weapon in human history.  In the event of a nuclear war there would be catastrophic consequences not only directly on human populations but also on the global environment and indeed climate change itself.

May I conclude by recognizing that governments are working hard to hopefully reach a successful new climate change agreement in Paris later this year, and we call upon them to promote a broader community resilience agenda that safeguards sustainable development gains and integrates disaster risk reduction together with public health, poverty reduction and climate change strategies.

They should notably prioritize within their mitigation portfolio, those activities that not only help mitigate climate change, but also enhance local livelihoods, improve food security, reduce disaster risk, and combat desertification.

National plans should include a balance of climate change adaptation and mitigation activities with a range of actions targeted at vulnerable systems of life and people to improve people’s resilience and livelihoods based on climate friendly and resilient economies, and at the same time ensuring sustained reduction of carbon emissions.

Our 189 national societies are strongly committed and stand ready to make their contribution to address the causes and consequences of climate change in the context of national climate change strategies.

Dear friends we have to believe that change is possible and I conclude with a reaffirmation of my deep belief and commitment that people of good will  come together despite political, geographic, racial and cultural differences in order to help build a better world.

In the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement we call it the “Power of Humanity” and we see it as an unstoppable force for humanitarian ideals and values which can truly change the world for the better in our lifetimes.

Thank you for your time today.