The Red Cross was a result of war, but now the current state of our climate calls for the creation of a Green Cross as well. This idea was shared by Lorenzo Marsili.
In 1859, a Swiss entrepreneur named Jean-Henri Dunant journeyed to northern Italy to meet with the French emperor about his investments in Algeria. The meeting occurred in the vicinity of the Battle of Solferino, a significant event in the Italian War of Independence. After witnessing the devastation and 40,000 injured soldiers left behind, Dunant was inspired to devote himself to providing humanitarian aid in areas affected by war.
His efforts proved to be very successful. As a result, the Red Cross was founded in 1863, followed by the Turkish Red Crescent. In 1864, delegates from major European countries signed the initial Geneva convention to improve the treatment of wounded soldiers in war. However, by 1867, Dunant had gone bankrupt as his focus had shifted entirely to his philanthropic endeavors.
The concept of the Red Cross was straightforward yet groundbreaking: even during war, basic human compassion should not be disregarded. Despite the hostility between countries, the obligation to provide care and aid for the injured requires cooperation among those engaged in battle.
Is it possible to apply a similar concept to those impacted by climate-related catastrophes?
The climate emergency is causing a significant increase in the occurrence of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones, and mega-fires. The UN reports that the number of climate-related catastrophes has risen by five times in the last 50 years, and the US has recently experienced a record-breaking number of billion-dollar disasters in one year. Unfortunately, these trends are expected to continue in the foreseeable future, even with the most positive predictions.
Various countries have varying abilities to assist their citizens during times of disasters, and the effects of climate change tend to disproportionately impact lower-income nations. The creation of a loss and damage fund during the Cop28 conference in Dubai acknowledges this issue. Here is a potential additional concept: just as the Red Cross was established to aid those impacted by armed conflict, could we not also establish a Green Cross to aid those affected by climate-related disasters?
It is true that international assistance is typically offered promptly following earthquakes or severe floods. However, these offers are typically restricted to major disasters, such as the Libya floods of September 2023. They operate on a case-by-case basis and do not have a established system for coordinating with various national rescue teams. Additionally, they may be affected by conflicts between nations.
Visualize a global civil defense unit equipped with swift response capabilities and well-defined operational proficiency, ensured by consistent collaborative training and financial support. In the event of wildfires in Northern Africa, neighboring teams from Europe, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa would be able to promptly intervene with precise knowledge of the necessary actions. Similarly, in cases of flooding in Southeast Asia, Chinese, Indian, and Australian teams would be able to effectively coordinate relief efforts.
Similar to the International Committee of the Red Cross, this organization could operate independently from any specific country and receive funding from both public and private sources. It would collaborate with trained national rescue teams and volunteers to offer concrete security and a fair level of fairness among nations, ensuring a basic level of protection for all individuals globally. Consider it as a restricted form of global catastrophe insurance.
We possess preliminary drafts of potential designs for this type of project. The European system for civil protection combines resources from all nations in the EU and 10 additional non-EU countries to organize and provide aid in case of emergencies in participating countries. In North America, firefighters in California and Canada currently work together to combat large-scale fires.
The advantages of working together would be greater than the administrative expenses of organized collaboration. In fact, we already do this for our national defense. Multiple nations plan collective military drills to ensure their forces can work together effectively: why should we prioritize cooperation in using force over protecting lives?
A global organization for civil protection could potentially broaden its focus from responding to climate disasters to also preserving the environment. In the midst of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Franklin D Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed unemployed individuals to help develop national parks and conserve forests. Is it not possible to envision a comparable conservation corps that recruits youth from various countries to protect their shared planet?
In the end, a worldwide effort like this would not only physically safeguard the people of the world, but also promote a crucial sense of belonging to a vulnerable planet we all share. The Red Cross was established on the battlefields of northern Italy. With growing military and economic conflicts, separating individuals while our planet suffers, the world is in need of actions that unite us as one human race. A global force for protecting our planet would be a small but meaningful step in the right direction.
Lorenzo Marsili is a multifaceted individual, with expertise in philosophy, activism, writing, and leadership as the director of the Berggruen Institute Europe.