Hard Hit Nations Demand 'Loss and Damage' Help at COP26

What future damages? Small island nations are suffering now.
Tuvalu's Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe on November 5, 2021 delivered his COP26 statement while standing in the ocean in Funafuti, Tuvalu.
Photo/s: Courtesy of Tuvalu's Ministry of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs via Facebook

When cyclones Idai and Kenneth smashed into Mozambique's coast in March 2019 they left a quarter of a million people homeless and put a further million in dire need of medicine, food and sanitation assistance. 

The country asked for $3 billion to help rebuild infrastructure, secure supplies and handle outbreaks of waterborne diseases. 

Instead it received a $120 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, and it was many months before more finance arrived. 

"It was a fraction of what was needed," Daniel Ribeiro, technical coordinator at Justica Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, told AFP. 

While UN COP26 talks are struggling to rustle up promised funding to help vulnerable states prepare for the future impacts of the climate crisis, states already reeling from climate disaster are demanding separate, immediate money for "loss and damage".

"We're talking about social traumas that can't be fixed. The monetary side isn't possible," Ribeiro said.  

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"We cannot adapt to what is already happening."

When countries first signed up to the COP negotiations process more than 30 years ago, climate change was viewed as a future problem.

Then in 2009 richer nations -- historically responsible for the vast majority of plant-warming greenhouse gas emissions -- vowed to provide $100 billion annually by 2020. 

The cash was earmarked for two tasks: mitigation, or helping countries to limit further warming by decarbonizing their economies, and adaptation, helping them plan for higher seas and more intense downpours in the decades to come.

But today, with just 1.1C of warming so far, nations around the world are already being battered by extreme weather, with climate-linked disasters displacing tens of millions and inflicting hundreds of billions worth of damage. 

Yet funding for loss and damage is not even on the official negotiation agenda in Glasgow.

Harjeet Singh, senior advisor at Climate Action Network International, said that loss and damage "cannot be a side issue".  

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"We are seeing impacts hit vulnerable communities in poor countries even as these climate talks continue," he told AFP.

"Small island states are calling for finance to help people recover from devastating storms and rising seas. It is time rich countries stopped the token references and hollow words and backed it up with real action and finance here in Glasgow."


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Touchy subject 

The annual $100 billion outlay promised for climate adaptation and mitigation will eventually be ready from 2022 or 2023 -- several years behind schedule. 

But loss and damage will soon dwarf that figure. 

Studies show that damage inflicted by climate change could top $500 billion a year by 2030.

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An analysis by Christian Aid showed Monday that the 65 most vulnerable nations could see GDP drop 20% on average by 2050. 

Led by Luxembourg and Jamaica, countries are pushing for the establishment at COP26 of a UN-governed funding facility that countries can turn to in the event of disaster.

And two island nations at risk of disappearing under rising seas have established a new UN commission, which could lead to the possibility of suing rich polluters.

The commission is organized by Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu, whose foreign minister went viral last week as he was pictured recording a video message for COP26 while standing knee deep in seawater.

Yamide Dagmet, director of climate negotiations at the World Resources Institute, said that loss and damage is a touchy subject for developed nations, whose emissions have driven the destruction.  

"It's mainly the rich countries' fear or even paranoia of liability or compensation," she said. 

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"It's not about liability or compensation, it's about what will happen when these islands disappear."

'Protection money' 

A veteran climate talks observer told AFP that rich countries' inability to meet the $100 billion figure had led to a "trust deficit" at the Glasgow talks. 

He said that figure was "not need-based, but political".

Abul Kalam Azad, a Bangladeshi negotiator, said that the failure to deliver climate finance had created a loss of confidence in rich countries that had "translated to loss and damage". 

And there are even questions over the money that has been counted towards the $100 billion goal.

A 2020 assessment by Oxfam found that countries had been overreporting their contributions to climate finance, and that most was provided in the form of non-concessional loans.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji's minister for economy and climate change, stressed last week that loss and damage finance must be "additional and separate" to the $100 billion.

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Like Mozambique after cyclones Idai and Kenneth, many countries have been forced into accepting loans to help recover after extreme events. 

Sayed-Khaiyum said that had left nations mired in climate debt.

"It is akin to forcing us to fork out protection money to the mafia of fossil fuel investors, who are responsible for inflicting the terror of this crisis upon us," he said.

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