Loss and damage

COP26, Glasgow - DAY 9

Marco Magrini

Chikondi Chabvuta is from Malawi. In 2019, she helped farming families in a project to enhance soil health, as a way to adapt to climate change. ‘Then, cyclone Idai come,’ she said. It was the strongest cyclone on record to ever hit Africa, a fury that devastated Mozambique and gravely wounded Zimbabwe and Malawi. ‘They had nothing left to adapt to. For sure, they should never pay for the impact of a climate crisis they have not contributed to.’ At COP26, stories like this one abound. As in every UN climate conference of the past, Indigenous people – from South Africa to Peru, from Greenland to Tuvalu – have come here to raise their voices. But these efforts have never mended the division between the rich world that has been polluting for centuries or decades, and the developing world that is unjustly paying most of the consequences. The consequences are dire already. ‘Between 2000 and 2019 more than 475,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events globally,’ reads the Global Climate Risk Index 2021. Losses amounted to around US$2.56 trillion and are forecasted to keep rising as the planet warms up. Guess which countries were most impacted in this 19-year period? Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan. None of which are long-term emitters.

The issue of at least partially refunding poor countries for their losses (known as Loss & Damage finance, in COP’s parlance) is one of the biggest hurdles the Scottish summit has to face. ‘We wait for a new text tomorrow. The present one is very weak,’ said Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s lead negotiator. ‘Pacific Island Nations have clearly stated that they need help beyond humanitarian aid’ – they risk having their entire countries submerged by rising sea levels in a decade or two. Yet, ‘loss and damage is still a taboo for developed countries,' said Alpha Oumar Kaloga, one of the lead negotiators from the African Group of Negotiators. Moreover, there is the standing issue of the famous $100 billion a year, promised in Copenhagen to help countries adapt to climate change and contribute to mitigation. The money never fully materialised. At present, it seems the pledge will be met only in 2023, although things may rapidly change. A recent OECD report showed that in 2019, only about 25% of the funds that were sent went towards adaptation (preparing for extreme weather events), while the rest went to fund mitigation projects (reducing carbon emissions). ‘It should have been the other way round,’ a delegate from a small African nation told me today.

‘Some African countries are spending more of their money on adaptation than in education,’ lamented Carty. Now, countries are discussing a new finance goal for the period starting in 2025. The African Group of Negotiators, supported by a group of 24 nations which includes China, India and Vietnam, have called on donor nations to mobilise at least $1.3 trillion per year by 2030, ‘of which 50% for mitigation and 50% for adaptation.’ Some developed nations however, are suggesting they deal with the post-2025 regime at a future COP instead. Today at COP26, 12 governments pledged $413 million in new funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund, devoted to helping the 46 poorest nations, most of them in Africa. ‘Hundreds of millions are peanuts,’ commented Juan Pablo Onorio, Greenpeace lead negotiator. ‘We need billions, if not trillions.’ The separation between our two-faced world is enshrined in a principle that has governed the UN climate conference since the beginning: the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, or CBDR. The laws of physics make carbon dioxide block the infrared radiation of the Earth; the laws of chemistry make it ’survive’ in the atmosphere for a century or so. The CBDR implies that long-time polluters should bear most of the burden, both in solving the climate crisis and in paying for the damage inflicted. This is what is commonly called ‘climate justice’. While the rich world struggles to kick its fossil fuel habit, it should – at least – take full responsibility for such a dangerous addiction.

This article was published on Geographical Magazine's website on 9 nov 2021

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