Key learnings from the first ever DRC Global Event 2020 on Climate Change

Access the video recordings and get a brief recap of the first DRC Global Event 2020 on Climate Change. Every year, DRC sets out to explore problems and their solutions around a pressing topic of transnational dimensions, which affects displaced populations, and which challenges the humanitarian sector. This year, we focused on climate change, environmental degradation and forced displacement – read on to get a glimpse of the exciting journey.

The first DRC Global Event was delivered on 25 November 2020, as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) set out to explore the nexus of climate change, environmental degradation and forced displacement. In collaboration with external partners, speakers, thought leaders, start-ups, academia and technical experts, we unpacked how climate change and environmental degradation impacts forced displacement globally. With the aim of leaning into the future – to understand that we can impact the trajectories of the people we support, we (virtually) gathered 150+ people.

The DRC Global Event 2020 has been an interactive journey with many resourceful contributions and different touch points which, taken together, has been an incredibly inspiring journey for DRC as an organization. The overall aim was to improve protection and response, inspire our work and to deepen and widen the lens of the humanitarian sector to better tackle climate change and environmental degradation.

With the displaced in mind, we enabled via the DRC Global Event, a thinking outside of the box in collaboration with partners we do not normally engage with, both within and beyond the humanitarian sector.

Sourcing new knowledge

We expanded our knowledge on the key aspects of the nexus, such as climate and protection and sustainable financing, as well as more innovative angles, including data and displacement and circular design for urban displacement contexts. In total more than 30 speakers, facilitators and collaborators contributed to the Event, sharing different and inspirational perspectives to greenify the world we work in and where we perform our DRC mandate. The DRC Global Event made us think, lean into the future, learn and, in the words of our external facilitator, Märtha Rehnberg, even “un-learn” some of the preconceptions about the nexus in question. This was a key step to adapting to the challenges that arise in today’s changing world, where we, as an organization, want to change with it, and thus need to adapt and scale ambitions accordingly.

“Climate change is too important to be dealt with by the climate people alone.”

Dr. Adil Najam, DRC Global Event 2020 Launch

Embarking on a new journey with a new purpose to mobilize and source new external brainpower

Starting with a virtual launch event, we embarked on a journey – new to DRC at large. We looked at the climate-displacement nexus from the perspective of mental health, technology, the COVID-19 pandemic and through the eyes of practitioners such as Ruth Andrade from LUSH, Mads Twomey Madsen from Pandora and more. These talks are available to watch on our Climate Action page. The selection was vast – as Dr Adil Najam suggested during his talk on the day after COVID-19, “climate change is too important to be dealt with by the climate people alone.” This was the beginning, with many more conversations to be had, but the seed had been planted and we were hungry for more.

Brainstorming ideas in 5 dedicated Response Community Workshops

Slowly shifting from abstract to the more concrete solutions to the issue at hand, a series of virtual response community workshops (Protection and Legal Aid, Natural Resources, Conflict and Climate, Regenerative and Circular Practices, Green Economy, and Data and Predictive Analytics) was held.

They were hosted by our 10 DRC Ambassadors, selected for their technical experience to support this first event. The five deep-dive response community workshops served to inform the journey across the response communities, led by the 10 DRC Ambassadors, and facilitated by DareDisrupt. With internationally selected experts, the workshops tested a so-called 'back-casting approach' to support joint “lean into the future” scenarios. The aim was to understand and discuss what can be done now and within the coming years to prepare against a future that is malleable. The workshops formed the basis for several sessions at the DRC Global Event, enabled new friendships and generated much wider perspectives for the collaborators and DRCers involved.

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DRC Global Event 2020 Backstage: Disinfecting system in COVID-19 times

Students hack for humanity

Complementing the journey of the DRC Global Event, the DRC-DTU Skylab Hack4Humanity was a 12-hour hackathon on 16 October, facilitated by the Danish Technical University Skylab. In the hackathon, 30+ students engaged to test out the power of technology, data and automation in search for models that can support climate adaptation in our humanitarian response to minimize environmental harm. The impressive results were prepared by the students in the form of six 3-minute video pitches showcasing ideas. Two winners (best pitch: DATAGE; most promising idea: Climation) were announced at the DRC Global Event. The teams will be invited to pitch their ideas to a DRC Panel on 8 December.

A deep dive into the Sessions at the DRC Global Event

Unpacking the nexus with Dr. Caroline Zickgraf

To do this right, and to address the root causes that are all tangled up in each other, we must understand the complexity of climate and displacement. Our first keynote speaker, Dr. Caroline Zickgraf from the Hugo Observatory helped us unpack the nexus. She highlighted how important it is to realise that “climate change does not act in a vacuum. It is a threat multiplier which deepens vulnerabilities and inequalities.” The SPEED factors (social, political, environmental, economic and demographic) must always be taken into account, she emphasized.


“Climate change does not act in a vacuum. It is a threat multiplier which deepens vulnerabilities and inequalities.”

Dr. Caroline Zickgraf, DRC Global Event 2020

The seriousness of this issue can be easily illustrated with numbers, which show that there were 33.4 million internally displaced people in the world in 2019, 24.9 million of which due to natural disasters. This is three times more than people fleeing conflict. Yet Dr. Zickgraf also warned us against blindly following the statistics as they are not fully representational. For example, there are many people who are forced to stay, living in inhabitable conditions due to climate change and, consequently, fall through the so-called protection gap.

Taking this into account, one should note Dr. Zickgraf’s concluding remark that while “climate change is unjust, our responses don’t have to be.” This keynote was followed by three well facilitated breakout sessions, responding to three of the topics that have been unpacked throughout the journey, namely climate and protection; data and displacement, and conflict, natural resources and forced displacement.

DRC, UNHCR and WFP: the future of the humanitarian sector is in collaboration

We then shifted to the humanitarian sector in a conversation between Karin Sørensen from DRC, Grainne O’Hara from UNHCR and Gernot Laganda from WFP. Representing some of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, the trio echoed the importance of looking at the bigger picture surrounding climate change and paying special attention to the fact that “climate change hits unevenly.” To be able to help the maximum number of people, O’Hara suggested the work of humanitarian organisations must be strategic, even down to the terminology that is used. Importantly, she further noted how humanitarian organisations “need to work in partnerships, rather than in conflict, with states, to succeed with tackling the climate challenge.” And taking all the ideas from the day into account, it is also collaborating with other humanitarian and non-humanitarian actors that will yield the best results.


"Humanitarian organisations need to work in partnerships, rather than in conflict, with states, to succeed with tackling the climate challenge.”

Grainne O'Hara, DRC Global Event 2020

Resilience design practices in our work

Speaking of results, the ideas became increasingly concrete and practical as the day went on. Warren Brush’s presentation left a clear practical (and spiritual) call to action on resilience design. Tuning in from rural Uganda, he introduced us to the world of resilience design frameworks, the impacts of a restorative approach and reflected on the sector-leading work the DRC has done with permaculture in the East Africa and Great Lakes region – internally supported by Natalie Topa. It is about supporting human settlement and restoration of natural ecosystems through various movements, such as agroecology, food forestry or rainwater harvesting.

Coming to us with a number of concrete examples, Warren Brush showed us how accessible and impactful it is for a humanitarian organisation, such as DRC, to adapt their on-field operations to be more regenerative and restorative, setting a good example for others to follow. For Warren, “it is about helping those different movements of regenerative practices to be able to work in the unique operating environments of the humanitarian and development space.”

DRC SG with Green leadership profiles discuss regenerative vs degenerative ripple effects

Slowly approaching the end of the day, we began to look at the concept of green leadership. Facilitated by Charlotte Slente, DRC’s Secretary General; Laura Storm, a regenerative leadership expert and Helen Clarkson from The Climate Group, we brainstormed ways for leaders to implement green practices in their leadership models. This session encouraged us to look within, “to look at the ripples you, as a leader, are creating and scale this up.” In other words, leaders must be conscious of the power they have on the world, their sector and their employees, and act on this responsibly. So, we leave you with a question from Laura Storm, applicable to both leaders and non-leaders: look within and ask yourself “is what I’m doing creating regenerative or degenerative ripple effects?” If there is one thing, we learnt during the DRC Global Event, it is that change starts with a question that will unlock your potential to act.

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DRC Global Event 2020 Backstage: DRC Secretary General, Charlotte Slente, in the Green Leadership session

Ms. Robinson calls for focus on humanity in the climate crisis

Finally, we had the pleasure of welcoming our last keynote speaker, Ms. Mary Robinson, the Chair of the Elders, who brought us incredible calmness. After an intense day of discussions, Ms. Robinson brought us back to the ground and reminded us that “the climate crisis is a human crisis.” There are people behind the numbers we obsess over, and it is their lives and livelihoods that should be in the centre of all operations surrounding this climate-displacement nexus.

Tying all ends together, Ms. Robinson emphasized the lack of equity the climate crisis induces, affecting those who were already most vulnerable the most. “The costs of climate change are severe and those least responsible shouldn’t be left to shoulder them,” said Ms. Robinson. It is the voices of those most affected that we should be including in debates surrounding climate change and displacement – they are the ones who speak true to the power of this crisis and what it feels like to be at the front of the effects of climate change.

We are extremely thankful to all those who presented and participated in the first DRC Global Event. The sessions were eye-opening and inspiring to us, but also to our audience sitting at home who were eager to learn from this experience and actively contribute to change. We cannot wait for more. And see you next year!

Many of the sessions offered insights into practical changes, ideas and work for DRC and others to improve our protection and response for displacement affected communities. Stay tuned of DRC Climate Action site about news, stories and other initiatives relating to climate and environment. This is not the end – rather the beginning. Follow us here on our DRC Climate Action page and get in touch.