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Demands grow for 'global justice' on climate damage at U.N. talks

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 17:01 GMT

Agiro Cavanda looks at his flooded home in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth, at Wimbe village in Pemba, Mozambique, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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Funding to cover the losses poor nations are suffering from more extreme weather and rising seas will be high on the agenda at U.N. conference in Madrid

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, Nov 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Droughts, floods and storms are nothing new to poor communities in Mozambique - but in recent years, the weather has become so extreme that neither the people nor the state can cope, said an international charity head in the southeast African nation.

After two powerful cyclones battered swathes of the country in March and April, its north now faces floods, while the south struggles with drought, said Gaspar Sitefane, Mozambique director for ActionAid.

In some inland areas hit by the fierce storms, which swamped fields and destroyed homes, people now risk dying of hunger, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, calling on climate change negotiators meeting in Madrid next week to act fast to help.

"If we are not able to get funding specifically for this (climate stress)... the government will be forced to get loans or increase the taxes the public should pay, and it will also create a cycle of poverty because the country will not improve," Sitefane warned from the storm-ravaged city of Pemba.

ActionAid and scores of other green and development groups want this year's U.N. climate change talks to agree to set up a fund to bail out countries on the frontline of "loss and damage" as a hotter planet brings wilder weather and rising seas.

Sven Harmeling, who leads on climate change policy for aid agency CARE International, said U.N. science reports in the past year had made clear that worsening damage will happen.

"This is a reality that many people on this planet already confront today," he told journalists.

In efforts to avoid such harm, "many years" had been lost due to insufficient efforts to cut climate-heating emissions and scant support for people to adapt to growing disaster risks, he said.

Loss and damage - and finance to help avoid and repair it - is expected to be a hot topic at the Dec. 2-13 U.N. conference, both as losses mount and as a six-year-old body created to tackle the problem comes up for review in Madrid.


The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) has advanced knowledge on key points like ways to help people forced from their homes by rising seas or degrading farmland.

But the WIM has yet to lead to concrete action, especially on providing new sources of finance to deal with climate-related damage, developing countries and humanitarian agencies say.

Ever since talks to establish the mechanism started, there has been push-back from governments, including the United States and Australia, against paying money to mend the rising damage in poorer nations.

That is despite rich countries having emitted, over the decades, most of the heat-trapping gases that are driving the losses in parts of the world that have contributed little to the problem - and which have few resources to respond to it.

Richer states fear compensation claims could soar in the future if emissions continue to increase, fuelling more extreme weather and rising seas.

"It's the wealthier countries who have been emitting for longer that really should be providing the overwhelming share of the resources needed to deal with loss and damage," said Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

He worked on a report, released this week, that calculated countries' "fair share" of responsibility for loss and damage, based on their historic emissions and their capacity for climate action, as defined by their national income levels.

The study found the United Stated owes at least 30% of the bill and the European Union about a quarter, compared to 0.5% for India.

It used estimates of loss and damage costs in developing countries to suggest that new finance of at least $50 billion a year should be provided by 2022, rising to $300 billion by 2030.

"A fair arrangement among countries is not just something it would be nice to have, but it's really the only way that we're going to get to an effective arrangement," Kartha said.


While the sums of money required may seem eye-wateringly large, such amounts could be raised through measures including levies and taxes on polluting air travel, financial transactions and the fossil fuel industry, research suggests.

Rich countries have mainly backed insurance as a solution, so that countries hit by climate disasters can receive payouts to help them bounce back and protect themselves better.

But at September's U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York, the Barbados prime minister said Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas earlier that month, showed a decade-old Caribbean insurance pool would not provide enough to help those displaced nor to rebuild after increasingly extreme events.

ActionAid, CARE and other aid groups argue insurance is not a "silver bullet" to tackle loss and damage.

They say any new finance facility set up under the U.N. talks should provide money from a range of sources, including government grants and debt relief.

In a statement due to be issued this week, more than 155 organisations plan to call for an automatic moratorium on debt payments for developing nations experiencing climate disasters, to free up budgets for response and to avoid "lengthy pledging exercises".

Harjeet Singh, who leads climate change work for ActionAid, said the U.N. negotiations provided the right framework for such issues of "global justice".

"Loss and damage finance is going to be an indicator of how the global system respects and protects poor people and countries who have no fault or role in causing the (climate) crisis)," he said.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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