A skit by the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition at COP26 in Glasgow
A skit by the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition at COP26 in Glasgow

As climate disasters unfold, developing nations bat for reparations

In the lead-up to COP27, developing nations and Small Island States are working to bring Loss and Damage finance to the forefront.

At just twelve years old, Nyombi Morris, now the founder of Earth Volunteers, was uprooted from his home in the Butaleja district of eastern Uganda because of devastating floods. His family was forced to move to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where they faced unemployment and high costs of living. Back home, they were farmers and completely self-sufficient.

“My parents were not well-educated but at least they knew how to farm. When we shifted to Kampala, life became so hard. There were days that we did not have food,” said Morris.

A few months into the family’s new living situation, Morris’ father abandoned his family due to terrible living conditions.

It wasn’t until much later that he understood he was a climate refugee. 

“Today when I see wildfires in Algeria, when I see flooding in Sierra Leone, when I see starvation in northern Uganda, when I see drought in the Horn of Africa, I feel so terrified. How are we going to survive?”, said Morris.

This is why he, along with many other activists and experts, is demanding the establishment of a Loss and Damage Finance facility — to address the climate disasters already ravaging the world. 

The issue is expected to take centre stage at COP27, the 27th Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

What is ‘Loss and Damage Finance’?

In response to climate disasters, vulnerable communities rely on adaptation measures (eg. building flood defenses such as embankments) to survive; but these efforts can only go so far. Based on existing emission trends, climate change has dramatically increased the number of extreme weather events, making many disasters completely unavoidable. The social and fiscal impacts of these unavoidable events are referred to as “loss and damage”.

It is well established that countries in the Global South are disproportionately affected by climate change. The Global North is historically responsible for an excess of 92 percent of emissions. Countries in the South, including India and China, are still well within the boundary of their fair share of global emissions.  

“In communities such as mine in Balochistan [in southwestern Pakistan], every year people are affected by the impacts of the climate crisis. People lose their homes, Indigenous communities are displaced, culture is lost. The damages are not even quantifiable,” said Yusuf Baluch, an Indigenous climate justice activist with Fridays for Future MAPA.

“This is why rich countries have a responsibility to pay for the [climate-induced] loss and damage in vulnerable communities.”

Baluch’s community and many others in Pakistan are currently facing deadly flash floods. The death toll has crossed 900 and a national emergency was declared on August 26.

Back in 2009, at the Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP15), developed countries, like the US, UK, Canada and Germany, pledged to commit to a goal of dedicating a combined 100 billion USD a year, by 2020, to address the climate adaptation and mitigation needs of developing countries. This target still remains out of reach, and experts say that even this amount is insufficient and far from what lower-income countries are owed.

On top of this, developing countries (G77) and Small Island States (AOSIS) have demanded additional finance for Loss and Damage. Vanuatu, on behalf of AOSIS, was the first to submit a proposal to address loss and damage in 1991.

Last year at the Glasgow COP, developing nations put forward another proposal to address Loss and Damage. However, at the UN Bonn Climate Conference in June this year, developed countries like the US, UK, and EU once again blocked the proposal, ensuring it was taken off the COP27 agenda.

Even so, the recent momentum around the issue is significant. The Glasgow Climate Pact, which came out of COP26, has the strongest wording ever seen on loss and damage in a COP decision. As we head into COP27, developing countries are expected to continue to rally behind the cause.

A protest sign outside the COP26 venue in Glasgow

“With the unexpected push for Loss and Damage that we saw at the last COP, and again what little progress was made at Bonn, it has generally raised hopes in developing nations and island nations,” said Shailendra Yashwant, Senior Advisor at Climate Action Network South Asia. 

“The top priority that we see is climate finance commitments crystallizing and the money actually coming to the South.” 

Yashwant added that in the absence of real action and financial backing from the rich nations there will be pushback.

“I expect, at least from the language that I’m hearing from delegates [in the pre-COP meetings], a pushback for the first time from the developing countries, the impacted countries.”

COP27 will be the second time that the COP is held in Africa. It has the potential to shine a light on African climate issues that are repeatedly overlooked. 

“We have experienced around three to four cyclones in Southern Africa this year alone. [Climate] impacts, instead of slowing down, are picking pace,” said Chikondi Chabvuta, CARE Regional Advocacy Advisor, Southern Africa.

“Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and even Zambia, have been impacted. We have registered loss, we have registered infrastructure damage. Even our food security is impacted. We lost people this year. But we didn’t get adequate support [from rich nations] because of missing mechanisms, like the Loss and Damage facility. Countries that are responsible feel no obligation to assist.”

Global North countries like the US and France have a track record of sourcing mineral resources and fossil fuels in the Global South but refuse to pay for the climate damages caused by their emissions. According to a former Yemeni minister, France’s military force is currently in Yemen’s unstable Shabwa province, seeking control of gas facilities.

“Sourcing more fossils on the continent is hypocritical and it goes against all that we are pushing for. They would rather let the planet burn for the benefit of the few. We are demanding reparations [for loss and damage] rightfully owed to us in the Global South for [these] mistakes,” Chabvuta said.

Taking into account the year of climate disasters that 2022 has been, the urgency of operationalizing climate finance such as the Loss and Damage facility is all too clear. The issue continues to be about money. According to Chabvuta, we cannot wait for more COPs to secure a Loss and Damage finance facility. This needs to happen at COP27.

If rich countries continue to make empty promises, climate impacts will only get worse and more lives will be lost, she added. Sharm El-Sheikh needs to be the COP of action. The Global North needs to pay up.

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