For a continent that contributes the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, Africa has faced widespread loss and damage – including loss of life and reduced economic growth.
While developed nations stall on funding loss and damage and prevent necessary discussions on financing, African countries continue to face severely reduced food production, increased inequality and poverty, biodiversity loss and increased human morbidity and mortality due to the impacts of climate change.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C – as per the goals set out in the Paris Agreement – would drastically reduce these adverse effects. If this goal is reached then African economies would be better placed to reach other climate change targets.
But what exactly is loss and damage? The term refers to two types of losses.
The first is the most straightforward: economic loss and damage. These would be tangible goods and services commonly traded in markets, like property, cars and belongings, plus the water and electricity services that get knocked out for weeks on end after a flood or mudslide.
Then there is non-economic loss and damage. These include loss of life, health, territory, cultural heritage, sense of place, agency, identity, indigenous and local knowledge, biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Think, for example, of the impact of the 2022 Kwa-Zulu Natal floods in South Africa where 461 people lost their lives and infrastructure damage costs ran to an estimated US$1.4 billion. Or consider how people are losing sacred burial grounds in Micronesia, due to rising sea levels.
The term “loss and damage” first entered mainstream conversations about climate change as early as 1991, according to a recent paper. Back then Vanuatu, representing The Alliance of Small Island States, submitted a proposal to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change, the precursor of what would become COP, to establish an international insurance pool to “compensate the most vulnerable small island and low-lying coastal developing countries for loss and damage arising from rising sea levels”. Their proposal, unsurprisingly, failed.
Rich nations such as Australia and the US have long disagreed with the idea that industrialised countries should compensate others for the damage their pollution has caused.
Decades later, vulnerable countries that must deal with the grievous losses associated with climate change are working hard to make their voices heard on this issue.
Outcomes of COP26 on loss and damage
During COP26 last year, after two weeks of intensive negotiations, a group of developed countries finally agreed to push the issue of loss and damage up on the agenda.
But they didn’t go far enough.
This influential group ignored calls by climate-vulnerable communities for the creation of a damages fund. The decision to downgrade the Glasgow Facility for Financing Loss and Damage to a Glasgow Dialogue on Finance for Loss and Damage was a slap in the face for many representing disaster-struck countries. Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate tweeted that the decision was watered down to a workshop. “Rich countries clearly do not want to pay for the costs they are inflicting on poorer nations.” As Harjeet Singh, an adviser at the Climate Action Network International, aptly put it, the failure to create the fund to help poorer countries was akin to “walking in inches when we must move in miles”.
This downgrade to a mere dialogue will delay any action by at least another two years. The summit did not come up with any other funding for loss and damage.
And rich nations aren’t budging on not wanting to pay. At this year’s Bonn Climate Change Conference in June – a key event in the lead-up to November’s COP27 in Egypt – developed countries decided to keep loss and damage financing off the COP27 agenda. It is only after much pressure from developing countries and civil society that an agreement was reached to discuss the possibility of including the item on the agenda.
What Africa wants
While Africa is expected to address the effects of climate change, the continent historically is not a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Africa accounts for only 4% of the world’s emissions from energy and industrial sources. The region will need loss and damage financing should climate change mitigation efforts fail. Above this, those funding pledges need to be met and they must sufficiently address the magnitude of loss and damage suffered by African nations as a result of global warming – without increasing the burden on the continent, given its historical contribution.
Depending on the definition (direct and indirect losses), the extent of loss and damage in Africa could be far higher than the estimates often highlighted. The African Development Bank notes that climate change costs for Africa are projected to range from US$289.2 billion (in the low warming scenario) to US$440.5 billion (in the high warming scenario.)
Africa needs developed nations to:
- Meet their funding pledges. Currently, there is Oxfam research that estimates that, over the past five years, UN humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather were only 54% funded on average, resulting in an estimated funding shortfall of $28 billion to $33 billion.
- Make loss and damage just and equitable. Notably, lead African negotiators have suggested three guiding principles for loss and damage financing, namely:
- accessible funding,
- accessible data about the climate events that require funding, and
- equity around who pays, ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to the funding.
- Give additional financing for loss and damage which does not come at the cost of other pressing priorities such as education and healthcare.
- Ensure that decisions on the final use of loss and damage are determined by the recipients based on their nationally determined priorities.
#TheCOPWeNeed should strive to prioritise loss and damage funding in a just and equitable way and keep in consideration the scale of loss and damage versus how much Africa has contributed to the current climate crisis. Loss and damage financing needs to be a key priority during COP27. Dialogues can no longer be accepted. Instead, meaningful agreements should be reached that will lead to definitive and tangible results.