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June 5, 2024
Climate Crisis

World Environment Day: Taking Climate Action


By Laura Hendy, Climate and Resilience Programmes Manager

As a Jewish and a humanitarian organisation, World Jewish Relief is committed to doing everything we can do address the climate crisis.

Firstly, this meant expanding our humanitarian work. The number of climate related disasters has already risen by 35% since the 1990s, and the sector cannot afford to operate in the usual approach, of responding only after humanitarian crises have begun. We have therefore begun to support communities to build their own resilience and prevent crises from occurring in the first place. Since 2021, we have worked hard to build our technical knowledge, and discover what works; this year, we will support 21,000 people to build climate resilient livelihoods and toilets, and early warning systems for floods and typhoons, across Nepal, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Ethiopia.

Man faces camera holding out crops, in Nepal
Farmers like Bishnu in Nepal are building their climate resilience through World Jewish Relief's programmes

But we know that we must also do what we can to reduce our own contribution to the problem. So far, we have achieved a carbon neutral office for two consecutive years, created new guidelines to minimise the environmental impacts of our disaster responses, and our staff have begun to address their own greenhouse gas emissions outside of work.

You may wonder why a humanitarian charity may need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions at all. Greenhouse gases such as carbon are emitted from many of our activities, particularly when we fly to visit our programmes overseas, transport aid from suppliers to the communities that need them, heat, cool and power our offices, commute to work, and even when we provide food at fundraising events.

As a British organisation, we are bound by law to reach net zero by 2050, meaning we must reduce all of the emissions that we possibly can (approximately 95%) and offset the rest by investing in measures such as tree planting to absorb atmospheric greenhouse gases. Furthermore, we have committed, alongside other humanitarian organisations around the world, to measure and reduce our emissions as part of the IFRC Climate and Environment Charter. We recognise that our sector must do what it can to prevent the escalation of humanitarian disasters caused by our climate crisis.

Our first step has been to calculate our emissions. For this, we work with a social enterprise called Greenr, providing them with various datasets such as our expenditure on goods and services, flight miles, electricity consumption, allowing them to accurately calculate our emissions. Our emissions have varied dramatically over the past two years, with our international travel rebounding after the COVID-19 pandemic, and employee numbers tripling to implement our STEP Ukraine programme to support up to 10,000 Ukrainian refugees in the UK. But we have now combined the results from each year to create an official baseline, that we can compare our future emissions to. Our total emissions for this are 304 tonnes.

World Jewish Relief's emissions

For the past two years, we have used these calculations to become carbon neutral – meaning we draw as much greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere as we emit. We have achieved this by investing in certified offset projects such as afforestation in the Scottish Highlands, and providing more energy efficient cooking stoves in Rwanda. We have been ambitious, including our employees own personal emissions in the total figures. Over the past two years, we have offset 1,395 tonnes, which is equivalent to the emission released from driving 9,971,408km in a car!

We have also taken measures to upskill and empower our staff to make climate conscious decisions to reduce their own emissions. This year, Greenr ran a competition for us, where we could take on pledges such as eating vegan meals, commuting by walking or cycling instead of driving, reducing plastic use, or clearing out our email junk folder can help. Over one month, 15 of us saved a significant 1,330 kg of emissions, which is equivalent to 66 trees growing for an entire year.

On the one hand, our locally led approach to partnerships, procurement of aid supplies, and therefore lack of a large warehouse to store supplies in has given us a head start by keeping our emissions much lower per participant than some of the larger international humanitarian charities. But there is always more that we can do, and we are exploring how best we can use our baseline emissions calculation to try and reduce them further – in a way that minimises any detrimental impact on our life-saving and life-changing work around the world.