Skip to Content

Exploring the humanitarian effects of climate change

Back to Article Listing


Irene Weygandt

Director of Communication & Marketing, Josef Korbel School

Korbel School students highlight issues relating to the changing environment and humanitarian crises

Feature  • Article  •
Students  •

In recent decades, the relationship between the environment and human lives has been increasingly recognized. So-called “natural disasters” like hurricanes, floods and wildfires as well as issues related to conflict, security, and human migration can all be connected to the human effects of climate change. This past spring, a Korbel School course explored these relationships. Students taking the Environment and Crises course examine aspects of local, regional and international approaches at the nexus between humanitarianism and development, including preparedness, risk mitigation and responses to environmental crises, the impact of environmental factors including climate change on the nature and severity of crises, and the impact of humanitarian crises and responses on environment.

Scientists at NASA estimate that the Earth has warmed by 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century and the warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. While climate and weather are not the same thing, scientists have proven that these rising temperatures make extreme weather – like hurricanes, droughts, heat waves and floods – more frequent and intense. These kinds of significant weather events can completely alter a community. When extreme weather events combine with already existing conflicts or other crises, the impact can be even more devastating.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “In 2019, 34 million people globally were acutely food insecure due to climate extremes” and “weather-related hazards triggered some 24.9 million displacements in 140 countries.”

“People already living in crisis are the ones most significantly impacted by climate change,” says Chen Reis, clinical associate professor and director of the humanitarian assistance certificate program at the Korbel School.  “Professionals in international fields including development, humanitarian aid, security, and human rights, need to understand these complex relationships and be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences to effect change.

For the final project, students worked in groups to research a particular issue of their choosing related to crises and the environment. Each group created a product that creatively addresses their topic with a specific audience in mind.

“Korbel students are intelligent, creative, and engaged and I was thrilled to see their approaches to the assignment,” says Reis. “One group presented a social media campaign about gender sensitive disaster preparedness. Another submitted a pilot podcast focusing on climate change impact in Bangladesh. It was wonderful to see the students deeply engaged in and inspired by the topics they selected.”

The students in the class also found the hands-on approach to be beneficial to their learning.

“One of the most meaningful aspect of this class was its ability to not only discuss disasters caused by climate change but also how to mitigate and prevent such events,” says Wondemnah Pawlose, an International Development graduate student. “Every week, students played the role of various actors—local, national, international, and NGO – to determine how climate change is shaping lives around the globe and how stakeholders respond to such crises.”

Together with his classmates, Pawlose came up with the idea to create a podcast as part of their class project. “This podcast was helpful to utilize our research in a non-traditional format and one that made a dialog possible on the issue.”

The Korbel School offers a graduate-level certificate program in humanitarian assistance that provides students with the theoretical and practical underpinnings for humanitarian work. Students in the program explore interests in the humanitarian field and develop relevant skills, experiences and professional networks. Graduates pursue humanitarian careers both in the U.S. and around the world working with organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and within the private sector. Learn more.