Climate change - Dealing with loss and damage

Climate Change: Dealing with Loss and Damage

As global leaders converge at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), we will hear loud debate on climate justice related to loss and damage. Who is responsible for loss and damage in the world’s poorest countries? Why should such countries suffer the most when they are not responsible for causing climate change? Regardless of what we hear everyone has a role to play because climate change affects everyone. Nature does not discriminate.

Loss and Damage

Loss refers to permanent or irreversible loss due climate change, while damage refers to repairable damage.  Examples of loss would include permanent loss of coastal land due to erosion and permanent damage to the eco system.  As NOAA’s map shows, year 2022 has already experienced 15 separate billion dollar weather events.  Damage due to widespread disasters is felt by almost everyone.

At the global scale, Pakistan experienced devastating floods this year which killed more than 1,700 people and caused damage to millions of homes and businesses.  Simple math would show that since Pakistan contributes only 1% of global greenhouse emissions, it is responsible for only 1% of loss and damage.  According to OECD, G20 countries account for almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  G20 countries include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.  Greenhouse gases responsible for climate change do not stay within national borders and responsibilities should be equitably shared by all countries in proportion to their emissions.  That is the crux of the debate surrounding climate justice.

Billion dollar disasters in USA in 2022. Image by NOAA

Adaptation, mitigation, and resilience

In addition to costs related to loss and damage there are additional costs associated with adaptation, mitigation, and resilience.  Adaptation is about taking steps to live with the effects of global warming by measures such as rainwater harvesting, erection of sea walls, relocation of people from flood zones, improving building codes to promote weatherproof structures and so on.  Mitigation refers to finding ways to slow the rate of global warming through measures such as reduction in greenhouse gases and reliance on renewable energy.  Resilience is an assurance that key physical, economic, and social systems can bounce back quickly after a disaster and hare climate-proofed for the future.  Every country is struggling with costs of loss and damage as well as costs of adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. 

Sustainable development goals per 2030 agenda

The United Nations developed 2030 agenda in 2015, as a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity; and to promote sustainable development.  It identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets to protect the planet from further deterioration.  Most of the major nations of the world have agreed to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030 under the 2030 agenda.    

The issue of loss and damage was first discussed almost thirty years ago, but the progress has been slow.  At the last global conference – COP26 – in Glasgow, Scotland became the first country to make an explicit commitment to provide funding for loss and damage sustained by poorer countries.  Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently highlighted three basic principles.  First is that finance for loss and damage must be genuinely additional finance and not recalibration of agreed upon foreign assistance.  Second principle asks for using all available solutions and mechanisms depending on the specific type of loss and damage being addressed.  And the third principle is that countries should act immediately without waiting for COP27 agreements. 

Civic engagement

As world leaders gather in COP27, they must commit to equitable compensation for loss and damage suffered by countries around the world.  The responsibility should be shared by all since the effects of climate change are felt by all.  The principle of fairness in climate justice dictates that countries producing the most greenhouse gas emissions should also provide maximum financial support.  As individuals, we can demand that our elected leaders take this issue seriously and negotiate fairly with other leaders. 

Further reading:

Key takeaways

  • 1             Increase awareness about climate change and natural disasters.
  • 2             Demand fair and responsible actions on climate change by elected leaders.
  • 3             Vote to make sure that climate responsive leaders get elected.
  • 4             Actively pursue activities that promote adaptation, mitigation, and resilience

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