The COP27 UN climate talks at the Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt ended with one much applauded achievement: the decision to establish a loss and damage fund to help poor nations cope with natural disasters brought on by effects of climate change.
While this is a major achievement that signifies immense progress for climate-vulnerable nations, it could take another decade to be realised. And for those living with the consequences of climate change, it could be too late.
Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative in a statement noted that the reparations agreement failed to address the root cause of loss and damage through agreeing to phase out oil, gas, and coal, which will mean more loss and damage in the future.
Climate impacts loss
It is estimated that the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations have already lost an estimated $525 billion as a result of climate impacts in the last 20 years – and African nations could lose $50 billion annually by 2050.
Loss and damage also goes beyond money as the impact of climate change destroy lives, biodiversity and entire cultures.
This year alone, the Horn of Africa region has suffered the worst drought in 40 years, following four consecutive failed rain seasons.
The drought has killed millions of livestock, destroyed cropland and forced 1.1 million people out of their homes, while more than 22 million people face extreme food insecurity.
When and how will these people receive the help they need from the loss and damage fund?
Francis Atube, a climate change scientist and lecturer at Uganda’s Gulu University, says that if and when the funds are made available, they should be used for direct interventions such as putting up infrastructure for climate change adaptation, including irrigation systems and protection of water sources.
“We should first take care of those that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change like those living in Mbale and Karamoja in eastern Uganda and Kasese in the west of the country,” he said.
Imelda Kanzomba, the principal agriculture officer at Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries notes farmers are hit the hardest by landslides in Uganda.
“Most of them are small-scale farmers so they tend to lose all their crops and properties. If they don’t lose their lives, they lose everything else,” she says.
Directly to victims
Kanzomba says for the funds to be effective, they should be channelled directly to the victims because “government systems are not straight and people usually end up not getting what is due to them,” she said. “It would be good to set up a data system to track those affected and also pay individuals directly.”
But Kanzomba notes that governments do not have enough data to calculate how much is needed to compensate victims of disasters.
In early 2020, more than 10,000 people were displaced by floods in Kasese district, western Uganda, and now they are on the verge of starvation as the government struggles to feed them in camps with no housing or bedding.
Flash floods that hit the Elgon region of eastern Uganda killed over 30 people and displaced thousands, and the government had to depend on donors such as the European Union to resettle the over 20,000 people who needed urgent help.
For many around the world being impacted by climate change, it’s not yet clear where the finances will come from and how they’ll be disbursed, but a transitional committee to be set up by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will make recommendations on how to operationalise the fund at COP28, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates in 2023. The committee is expected to meet for the first time before the end of March 2023.
Experts say that for the fund to be effective all big polluters, historical and present, must commit to it, with a clear roadmap for its full operationalisation.
“While loss and damage finance campaigners want to see a funding mechanism with reliable sources from wealthy nations, some rich nations like those under the European Union have hinted at diverting to insurance schemes, which could shift some of the costs to the private sector.
“It must be a separate, new and additional financing mechanism with an active participation of civil society task forces to ensure affected communities are represented and have a voice,” Landry Ninteretse, the regional director of 350Africa.org, told The East African.
“Loss and damage is fundamentally different from humanitarian aid, which is built on a moral rather than a contractual obligation. An L&D response fund must be based on principles of climate justice and address rich nations' “fair share” of payments based on historical emissions, framed within a human rights approach under common but differentiated responsibilities.”
Climate campaigners have been calling for rich nations, whose historically high greenhouse gas emissions are largely to blame for the current global climate crisis, to compensate the climate-vulnerable nations for the losses suffered as a result of the climate crisis – a call that finally led to a reparations agreement at COP27 on November 19.
“The creation of such a fund is crucial to offering reparations for the injustice suffered by the most climate vulnerable nations, but should not be a license for polluters to persist in their polluting ways. Instead it is a wake-up call to chart a path to a just equitable transition through a phase-out of all fossil fuels,” Ninteretse said.