A series of hurricanes, floods, and forest fires in 2021 brought home one fact: The climate crisis is not a problem for the future. It’s a problem right now.
Many are just beginning to realize this in Europe and the US. But the Global South, also known as the developing world has been feeling the effects from global warming for many years or even decades.
Ineza Grace is a 25-year old activist and environmental engineer from Rwanda. The climate crisis that she experienced growing up has shaped her entire professional career. She recalled, “I can still remember waking up in the middle night to save my family’s house ceiling from intense rainfall and wind when I was a child.”
Grace was a teenager who watched the news to see that she wasn’t the only one. Flooding and erosion are two of the main causes of displacement in Rwanda for children and women. Grace needed to learn how to protect her community. Grace decided to change her focus from being a pilot or a mechanical engineer to become an environmental engineer.
More on the Climate Crisis
Grace’s ceiling caved in. This is what many people face when their homes are destroyed by human-induced events. Climate changeThis is also known by the term “loss and damages.” It refers directly to the damage that global warming is causing and cannot be prevented. Prior to 2021, loss or damage was a niche concern that was often ignored and pushed aside by wealthy countries like the US and Europe in climate talks. These countries, who have been responsible for the majority the emissions, are being questioned by small island countries and other countries in The Global South for compensation. But they don’t want the money.
Saleemul Huq, director at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, stated that “bad things are already occurring.” “And in our lifetimes, yours and mine, we’re not going stop them. It’s going to get worse.” Even with mitigation and adaptation, some damage is inevitable. Huq said that if we can’t stop it we should at the very least try to understand it.
Tension is growing, and 2022 could be a year of real progress on loss and damages. The Glasgow Climate Pact, the global agreement reached in November at the COP26 Climate Summit, was notable in that it included a “loss-and-damage dialogue”, a two year process in which funding will also be discussed.
This isn’t a sudden change. It has been a slow and difficult process to get wealthy nations to recognize their complicity. The next step is to turn this “dialogue” into funding.
The stakes are high. The climate crisis is causing millions to be displaced. If they don’t get funding to rebuild, there will be a climate-fueled refugee crises as people flee from weather-related disasters.
Many of the damages caused by climate change-induced human activity can be reversed with the right funding. The losses, however, cannot be repaired. The climate crisis will forever end the lives and cultures of humans, whole species, and entire ecosystems.
What does it mean to talk about loss?
Along with mitigation (trying not to raise temperatures) and adaptation (making adjustments to protect from rising temperatures), loss and damage are the third pillar of the climate crisis solution. Although all three must be prioritized however, wealthy, developed nations have long resisted any notion that loss and damage is a separate problem from adaptation.
Small island nations were the first to voice concern about global community loss and damage. Rising sea levels will eventually cause the submersion of low-lying islands in both the Indian and Pacific oceans. This is not a prediction. It’s already happening.
Gladys Habu was 19 years old when she returned to the Solomon Islands in 2014. This place was a place she had visited often as a child. Kale, the island next to her, was where her grandparents lived. She found no white sand beaches or lush forests. Only a few branches remained, hinting at a once beautiful landscape that was now hidden beneath the waves.
“It was very difficult for us all because it happened so abruptly,” she stated. “We were shocked, and to this day, I still cannot believe how quickly we lost Kale. Kale was a beautiful, island full of life and rich biodiversity. However, it was also a significant part of our identity that was lost and a connection to our past.
Grace, Habu and other young people are seeing the real-time loss and damage at an alarming rate. They are motivating their activism, and bringing them closer together.
Yusuf Baluch was a member of an indigenous community in Balochistan. He was six years old when his house was flooded and he had to leave the village. His family lost everything, and they had to sleep in open air without blankets until they were rebuilt.
Baluch, now 17, was not surrounded by climate activists growing up. However, Greta Thunberg, a climate activist, and his own experiences inspired him start Fridays For Future, a youth-led movement for climate strike. Grace, meanwhile is co-director at the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition which advocates for Climate justiceMore than 200 members are worldwide. She stated, “We will only have the future if we work together.”
Even loss is not a single issue. It has both economic and non-economic consequences. Mitzi Jonelle Tan (24 years old) is a climate justice activist who grew up in the Philippines. She lost many months of school to the effects of typhoons. It also cost her a lot more: “Growing afraid of drowning inside my own bedroom means that I lost a childhood where i felt safe and secure,” she stated.
Baluch stated that these non-economic losses do not have an adequate adaptation strategy. He stated that if I lost my culture, it would be difficult for me to adapt to it in a new way and in a different place. “If my language is lost, I won’t have the ability to adapt to it.” If I’m in severe starvation, or if there are floods or droughts, you won’t be able ‘adapt’ me to my final state.
Campaigners are urging the government to make it a priority because of the real-time effects of loss and damage on people all over the globe. Harjeet Singh (senior adviser at Climate Action Network International) stated, “We must support them.” “We must respect their human right.”
Loss and damage at the door
It is important to see local incidents as part a larger picture in order to understand the extent of loss and damage that is occurring right now. Incidents like last month’s tornado in Kentucky that killed 88 people aren’t isolated.
Huq stated that “Mozambique is in a flood right now.” “Madagascar currently has a famine. These are not the main stories. Global headlines don’t cover the impacts of the developing world, which have been occurring for years. However, 88 Americans make global headlines – and there will be many more.
Huq stated that the tornado was not caused by climate change, and is not an unusual event. However, the tornado’s intensity, timing, and magnitude are unusual and were caused primarily by human-induced climate changes — something we should expect will become more common.
“Every day from now on, an extraordinary weather event will break a new record. He stated that a flood or cyclone, or a heat wave, will occur anywhere in the world that has never been recorded before.
He said that in some cases, these records may not only be broken, but even shattered. This was the case with heat dome that erupted over western Canada last July. It broke heat records multiple times in a row, pushing temperatures to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in British Columbia.
However, there are some key differences in the impacts felt by the US and the Global South. The US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world, and its economy has been built on the backs of polluting industries. Its current impacts are due to its own actions, something that is also true for other wealthy countries.
The Global South, which has done little or nothing to combat the climate crisis, is not the same. They have been worst and first affected.
Habu stated, “We contribute almost nothing but face losses that can often be irreplaceable.” “My greatest fear, however, is that global leaders’ ignorance will cause many more islands to disappear and a profound change in our geopolitical nature.”
The second difference is money. The government provided 30 billion euros (roughly 35 billion) to rebuild Germany after the devastating floods of last year. In the same vein, President Joe Biden pledged federal funding to 100% of the cleanup costs after the tornado that struck Kentucky last month.
Huq stated, “That is compensation to loss and damage caused by human-induced climate changes.” They don’t know what it is. CNN or BBC will not be able to see the language that I speak. But that is exactly what is happening.”
There is not enough money to rebuild in developing countries. Asad Rehman, director at War on Want, stated that these countries are not only overwhelmed due to extreme weather events but also have limited resources, largely because of unsustainable debt repayments made to the Global North.
The German flood bill is an example of just how costly it will be to cover loss and damage. Rehman stated that the spiraling damages could reach trillions of dollars each year and that developed countries have drawn a line at them by refusing to pay for them.
He said that the United States was “probably the most vocal on that side.”[It]We will absolutely not accept any agreement in climate negotiations that makes it liable to the impacts that would occur now, or when we breach 1.5 degree guardrail, which is increasingly likely within the next five-ten years.
Huq stated that the US has been resisting loss and damage as a way to avoid liability and compensation. The US Secretary of State John Kerry made it a condition for the US to sign up to the Paris Agreement in 2016 that damage and loss could not be used as a basis for liability or compensation.
Smaller and less developed countries were forced to accept the language. But, their fight against loss and damage isn’t based upon liability and compensation. Huq stated that “our argument is based upon solidarity and humanity.” “We are saying, ‘You’re giving your citizens money for loss or damage, but you’ren’t giving us any money. Is that fair? Is that fair? Is that right?
Funding is a life-or-death battle
Although the cost of loss and damage may seem prohibitive, the COVID response, which saw the rapid mobilization of trillions in dollars in a very short time, is proof that it is possible. Singh said that there are many ways we can raise money. Singh said, “But the fact of the matter is that there hasn’t been any politics to do that.”
COVID also demonstrated how unwilling these countries are not to share their wealth or take a global approach when solving a global issue. It is not encouraging for those who fight for climate justice in the poorer countries to see hope in their refusal to lift vaccine patents and ensure that vaccine rollouts are in developed as well as developing countries.
Rehman stated, “Here’s an issue where the rich countries actually profit from helping us because it prevents the mutations of this virus and yet they won’t give us the bloody vaccination.” It’s so deeply ingrained in our political and economic system, the idea of disposability of certain parts of the globe, of people.
Singh stated that the consequences of not responding to financial requests for loss or damage raises serious questions about the global leadership of rich countries and the Paris Agreement as a whole.
He stated that “our ultimate motive or goal” is to keep people safe, and the planet safe, and thriving. “People are already being impacted — they’re losing homes, incomes, and farms, which means this agreement is failing, plain and simple. How can leaders who claim we will decarbonize by 2020 be trusted if they cannot support those who are already impacted?
Progress at COP26
Singh and Huq were active participants in the long-running battle to get loss and destruction on the global agenda. After years of campaigning by small island countries, it was finally mentioned at COP13 Bali in 2007. It has been a long and difficult journey to get it higher on the agenda.
Singh stated that COP26 was a significant breakthrough. It wasn’t even on their agenda at first. Adaptation, Loss and Damage Day became a conference day after civil society groups demanded it.
Singh said it may have seemed superficial, but it was symbolic that recognition is on the horizon. Both inside and outside the summit, activists, campaigners, and others stepped up to the theme, staging events and presenting petitions, and speaking with negotiators. Singh stated that it became “a litmus-test for the success” of COP26.
COP26, and the Glasgow Climate Pact that it delivered, weren’t a resounding success. Climate justice activists and civil societies groups demanded that politicians recognize the need for climate finance to help with loss and damage, as well as the establishment a Glasgow facility that would provide the funding.
They succeeded on the first point — loss and damage were acknowledged in the text. They failed to succeed on the second. After pressure from the US and the EU, the original language was changed to establish a “loss-and-damage facility” to a dialogue about “loss/damage.”
Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid International, said that there was so much hope for COP26 that the world leaders were finally catching up. She said that this was not the case. “The wealthiest countries, especially the US and Canada, are most responsible for global warming. They blocked any progress on loss- and damage finance.”
Rehman stated that although developing countries tried to resist the change in their language at the last minute, they were unable to withstand the pressure from the US and other rich countries. “It’s basically a lot of arm twisting,” Rehman said. “Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of negotiations.”
Rehman described this “uneasy compromis” as being devastating to many smaller nations, especially island states, who came to COP26 with a loss-and-damage facility as their priority. Rehman stated, “In that moment…that request for help being denied just makes it clear how little value they have in this world that has been created.”
Tan described the “clear, outright betrayal” that she felt at the outcome. She said, “It angers my knowing that they are deliberately stopping justice and ignoring millions of lives being impacted today.”
One bright spot was a move by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who made it possible for the summit to be a success. Sturgeon announced that Scotland would donate 1 million pounds from the Climate Justice Fund to damage and loss, and challenged other leaders to do so. Singh stated that “Nobody wanted talk about it.” Singh said that she broke the taboo and everyone started talking about it.
Although the fund’s size is small and not nearly enough to meet the needs, it helped get the ball rolling, Huq stated. He met with Sturgeon one on one during the summit. He said that “She gets” it. “She is clear in saying that this is reparations. This is not charity. It’s not giving to the poor because we feel bad about them. It is about redressing the wrongs done and challenging other leaders. “The challenge remains, even though nobody has stepped forward yet.”
2022: Loss and damage at the forefront
Campaigners for loss and damages financing hope that the fund Sturgeon started will grow in popularity this year as more countries show interest in tackling the problem. The EU as a bloc sided with the US at COP26. However, progressive leaders from Germany (Danish, Sweden, Ireland) want to explore the possibilities.
Now activists are planning for next summit, which will take place in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in November.
Anderson stated that “Looking ahead at COP27 Egypt, the fight will not stop.” Anderson stated that the Global South’s women, girls, and indigenous communities, which are being hardest hit by a crisis that they did not cause, will not allow this issue to go unresolved.
Singh stated that it is important that the next summit be held in Africa. Singh said, “It’s the COP of the vulnerable persons, and you can’t not talk about the most pressing issues for vulnerable people.”
Imagine what a funding mechanism should look like to push loss and damage forward at COP27. This requires engaging with governments that are likely to resist. Singh suggests that rich countries argue that their citizens haven’t instructed them to fight for loss or damage. They use this as a reason not to do it. He said, “We would like them to engage with us and say, Go and get the mandate.”
This is particularly important for the US. Singh stated that the problem with the US isn’t inaction, but disincentive to others to act. “Many countries hide behind USA — Australia Canada Japan. Everyone will follow the US’ lead if they move. He said that it was time for Americans to hold their governments accountable for delaying and denying climate action.
Tan stated that although she doesn’t trust the leaders in developed countries, she believes in the people in those countries who are standing with the Global South and the global youth movement. She said, “It is through people that changes will be made.”
Anderson pointed to the marches at the summit that brought thousands to the streets demanding that world leaders admit the devastating effects of the climate crisis on communities in South Asia. She said, “Governments really felt that stress.”
Baluch recommends that anyone who wants to help the fight against loss and damage to learn more about what’s going on around the globe. He stated, “It is impossible to feel the pain and suffering of the people impacted, but you can know about the people.”
Grace, however, stated that she has faith — “too many faith, to be exact”) — that countries will succeed and reach their goals. She said that she believes that the world will fulfill its promises if there is proper collaboration and listening to frontline communities. “I won’t lie to myself and say it will be easy … but as we like to say: ‘small steps to achieve climate justice.'”
Naomi Antonino from CNET created the photo illustration at top of this story.