Opinion: Addressing loss and damage: a developing [country] story

Written by John Leo Algo

Published: November 6, 2023

Topic: COP28

During a multilateral forum in Bangkok earlier this year, a delegate from the Global North claimed that developed countries are only obligated to fund adaptation and mitigation solutions, not actions addressing loss and damage (L&D), citing Article 4 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

However, this notion was quickly invalidated, with a delegate mentioning that the L&D funding arrangements that the world agreed to establish at COP27 was necessitated by the failure of developed countries to fully live up to their commitments under that part of the Convention.

This incident is an anecdotal snapshot of the familiar divide that has shrouded the entire climate negotiations. There is a reason it took three decades for the most vulnerable countries and communities to just get the Global North to agree to fund actions against this issue.
With a few months left before COP28, the process of setting up the L&D Fund has reached another stalemate, coupled with a new proposal. During a meeting in Aswan, Egypt, the United States led the call by developed countries to have this facility housed within the World Bank.

‘Insult to injury’

Such a proposal is simply unfitting of what the L&D Fund is intended for. The World Bank, which officially added climate change as part of its mission only last week, has been criticized by civil society groups in the past for its inefficiency, lack of accountability, and alleged role in projects that worsen social and economic injustices.

It also has countries like the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom among its largest shareholders, which would place the mechanism intended to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable at the mercy of some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

To even suggest this proposal is tone-deaf and an insult to all the victims of climate-related disasters, environmental defenders, frontline communities, indigenous peoples, and other highly-vulnerable communities that had to, if not continue to endure the brunt of extreme impacts.

While developed nations can afford to delay setting up the appropriate L&D funding arrangements, the vulnerabilities and needs of these peoples are both growing with each passing year that GHG emissions increase and not enough finance and other means of implementation are provided.

More importantly, this latest move indicates that despite last year’s landmark agreement at COP27, most if not all of the Global North still do not genuinely regard L&D as the third pillar of climate action. The “business-as-usual” attitude still persists, going back to proposing actions based on outdated, flawed institutional settings that to this point have been inadequate for responding to the needs of the most vulnerable.

It is clear that developed countries regard L&D as just like any other issue, even though it is not.

‘Not of the same feather’

L&D is fundamentally different from adaptation or mitigation. Unlike the two other pillars of climate action, “loss and damage” did not even appear within the UNFCCC text as it was adopted in 1992; back then, mitigation was regarded as the priority over adaptation.

Yet by this point, the world was different. The circumstances were different. Half of the world’s population today, the youth defined as being 30 years old or under, were not even born by that time; yet we are among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis and often ignored in the negotiations that decide our future.

Nonetheless, the continued pollution in the form of GHG emissions and worsening impacts came the need for new approaches to dealing with problems both old and new. By the early 2000s, adaptation is recognized as equally important as mitigation that led to new frameworks and mechanisms to help communities adjust to the changing climate.

Yet it also brought about emerging challenges that not only caused shifts in attitudes about the climate crisis, like L&D. It emerged as a critical issue because developed countries failed to live up to their commitments to reduce their pollution and support developing nations in the implementation of their adaptation and mitigation solutions.

Now, risks and impacts are increasingly beyond the capacities of communities to mitigate or adapt to, even though they had little to no contribution to starting or making this global threat worse. Instead of going back to the tried-and-tested that clearly is not working, policymakers must embrace the need to change against climate change.

The bottomline is that climate justice is inseparable from addressing L&D. It can only be properly addressed if all implementors truly recognize and understand why it is happening, which will be the basis for developing the right approach to tackle it.

The call remains clear for what funding arrangements for L&D must be. The funding must come as an additional amount instead of merely reallotting current finance from budgets allocated for either adaptation or mitigation. It must come in the form of grants, not loans or any other financing mode that would put even more burden on developing countries and the most vulnerable communities.

Its governing body must be standalone within the UNFCCC, not under the jurisdiction of countries and businesses with excessive wealth and responsible for excessive pollution who prioritize protecting their interests over building a genuinely global approach to preventing even worse climate change impacts. It must be based on the longstanding principles of “polluters pay”, “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and “equity”.

The past has taught us that “business-as-usual” is years past its expiration date. Nature has taught us to adapt to our environment, not make it adapt to the wants of the few at the expense of everybody else. If the leaders of the Global North refuse to learn from either of these, our world will continue to be lost and damaged.

About the author of this article
John Leo Algo