On 28 February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its newest report on the impacts of the climate crisis. It revealed that around half of the world’s population are considered as highly vulnerable to its numerous impacts, with economic, environmental, and social costs rising with higher levels of warming.
One of the most significant findings in this publication is that both natural and human systems are reaching their limits for adaptation. Ecosystems such as warm-water coral reefs, coastal wetlands, and rainforests are close to their hard limits to naturally adjust to changing environmental conditions. At higher temperatures, existing strategies in water management, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystems-based adaptation, among others would lose their effectiveness altogether.
For adaptation of human systems, soft limits have already been reached, but can be overcome through interventions on barriers related to finance, governance, and institutional arrangements. However, these barriers have proven to be far more difficult to be resolved, especially at the global level.
At the most recent climate negotiations in Glasgow, developing countries pushed for the establishment of a facility that would finance actions to address loss and damage in vulnerable nations. However, this push was never translated into the final COP decision, instead opting to finance technical assistance for related approaches under the Santiago Network.
The difficulties in climate finance go beyond loss and damage. The commitment of developed nations to provide USD100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries was not met. Funding for mitigation far exceeds that for adaptation, despite an agreement for equal allocation for both.
These trends point to the continuing hesitancy of developed countries to live up to their collective pledge of assisting more vulnerable nations. Adding to this is that most of the finance they have offered to developing countries have come in the form of loans instead of grants, an affront to justice that is meant to be propagated under the Paris Agreement.
The IPCC further confirmed a reality that many advocates have feared: adaptation alone cannot prevent all losses and damage anymore. The amount of greenhouse gasses already emitted into our atmosphere and oceans have disrupted our climate too much that simply adjusting our way of life will not be enough.
Some systems, sectors, and regions would inevitably experience more harm than others, especially the most vulnerable such as the youth, women, indigenous peoples, and those living under poverty. Most of them are living in vulnerable countries, where risks or their needs are not comprehensively accounted for in governance, institutional, and financial arrangements.
Too many communities have already been victimized by climate-related disasters; these include those that felt the wrath of super-typhoon Haiyan in 2013 that helped make loss and damage a vital workstream in the negotiations. And with COP 26 outcomes still resulting in a 2.4-degree warmer world, many more would experience a similar fate.
Make no mistake about what the science says: averting and minimizing loss and damage is not a luxury for rich nations to ignore, but an inevitability that everyone must work together to accomplish.
Despite the shortcomings of COP26, there remains a small window of opportunity. The establishment of a loss and damage facility figures to be one of the main agendas at COP27 in Egypt. The latest IPCC report provides undeniable proof of the need for it, and could serve as a basis for vulnerable nations and non-government groups to pressure developed countries to commit finance.
So far, the governments of Scotland and Wallonia, Belgium, along with a group of philanthropic organizations, have collectively pledged nearly USD7 million for addressing loss and damage. However, this falls way short of the estimated economic costs reaching up to USD580 billion per year by 2030.
To strengthen support for addressing loss and damage, proponents must take advantage of events leading to COP27. Countries must avail the technical support under the Santiago Network to better assess their needs related to this issue, specifically on financial, technological, and capacity-building needs. Other spaces for dialogues under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change must be inclusive and facilitative, prioritizing among their outcomes the discussion of the specifics of the facility for loss and damage and securing new pledges from the public and private sectors.
For advocates in developing countries, they must pressure their governments to prioritize loss and damage in their delegation’s agenda for the 2022 climate negotiations. For those in developed nations, they need to mobilize and influence their governments to support the creation of a funding facility at COP27.
While financing loss and damage would immensely help lower vulnerabilities and avoid injustices, global and national decision-makers must not forget to address the roots of the climate crisis: excessive pollution from fossil fuels and the corporations funding them and preventing meaningful actions from being implemented.
Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage must not be treated as individual work streams that should compete for funding and resources. Rather, our leaders need to treat them all equitably as three interlinked parts of the whole climate action sphere. If even one of them is not properly addressed, our efforts to limit global warming, avoid more catastrophic climate change, and achieve sustainable development would fail.
Actions speak louder than words. And too many words have already been spoken in the era of the climate emergency.