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Redefining loss and damage post-COP28: from finance to action

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By John Leo Algo

· 5 min read

The establishment of the Loss and Damage (L&D) Fund during the past two UN climate negotiations (COPs) marked a potential breakthrough in addressing this critical climate issue. It could not have come at a more urgent time, given that global emissions continue to increase despite repeated warnings from various parts of the world.

Yet potential is never enough, especially for the most vulnerable communities. They waited for 15 years for “loss and damage” to even appear in a COP decision, and three decades to have a funding mechanism for it. Waiting for even one more year for support to be delivered, let alone another 15, is something they cannot afford.

Potential has to be turned into urgent and impactful actions. As it stands, policymakers, implementors, and other stakeholders have the opportunity to redefine the L&D agenda across all scales. 

From the global …

The decision to set up the L&D Fund was welcomed, but many stakeholders questioned the specifics, from who is hosting it to the lack of a defined finance target. A look at initial trends suggests more doubt and criticisms about its capacity to deliver on its intended mandate will emerge.

L&D as an issue is anchored on the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, and justice, to name a few. While the structure of developing countries having more representatives to the Fund Board than developed nations is aligned with these, another aspect of equity may be in jeopardy.  

Of the 26 current nominations to the Board, men far outnumber women (19 to 7), with the ratio even more lopsided among those intended to be full members (11 to 2). This continues the general trend of lacking gender balance under UNFCCC processes, including at the most recent negotiations in Dubai.

Ensuring a gender balance within the Board would signify the end of female underrepresentation in global climate conferences. The move would also guarantee that the needs and concerns of women, who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis compared to men, are receiving the proper attention and support.

Heading into the Dubai climate talks, it is well-established that the needs of the most vulnerable countries are far higher than set finance targets, especially on adaptation. Without a drastic increase in these goals coupled with a lack of strong reductions in global emissions, L&D being experienced by countries and communities alike will worsen.

A combined USD700-million pledge to the L&D Fund is an improvement compared to the outright refusal of developed countries to even acknowledge the need for such finance just a few years ago. To pledge is different from delivering the money. It is up to the Fund Secretariat to mobilize sufficient  funding, deliver resources at scale through grants, and guarantee fairness, transparency, and accountability in all operations.   

There is no shortage of funding that can be unlocked for this purpose. Redirecting most, if not all of the USD7 trillion being used for fossil fuel subsidies through policy reforms at the national level would help address the current finance gap not just for L&D, but in all facets of climate action. 

So would stricter environmental regulations and the enactment of new national legislations that would ensure that literally each “polluter pays”. The cost of damage by thousands of companies worldwide amount to 44% of corporate profits, also reaching trillions of dollars that could otherwise be spent solving the climate crisis and reducing existing inequalities that hinder our pursuit of sustainable development. 

Per the Dubai COP decision, it falls on the Board to develop a fundraising and resource mobilization strategy. If the L&D Fund will truly deliver, it needs to overcome political divides and fossil fuel interests by influencing governments and businesses to take these necessary actions.

… to the local

Many residents of developing countries still lack a proper understanding of the climate crisis, let alone L&D. While they can recognize the dangers brought by typhoons, droughts, and other hazards to their lives, grasping L&D as a concept remains a challenge as it may come across as being too technical or abstract. 

The narrative of L&D has largely been a global one, centered on how developed countries must pay the most vulnerable countries and communities for causing the climate crisis. While this is obviously an undeniable fact that should never be undermined, it does present a problem of making more people truly understand and relate to this workstream.

While no formal definition for it exists under the UNFCCC, it is understood that L&D refers to climate risks and impacts that are beyond the capacities of communities and ecosystems for adaptation and mitigation. Using this lens, it can be argued that accountability would not only apply to developed countries and fossil fuel corporations. 

Accountability should also be applied to neglectful national and local governments, financers of fossil fuel and other relevant extractive industries and operations, and entities spreading climate denialism and disinformation. These stakeholders are also enhancing said risks and impacts that lead to higher vulnerabilities and greater economic and non-economic costs, through actions from maladaptation practices and false solutions to the exclusion of the most vulnerable peoples in climate-related decision-making. 

Expanding the scope of L&D through this context turns it into a more recognizable problem in the minds of those living in the most vulnerable countries and communities. It also spurs more people to participate in projects and initiatives aiming to address this issue, as well as in adaptation, mitigation, and human rights. It also helps bridge the existing gap of making the outcomes of the climate negotiations more relevant at the local level.

With emerging and evolving challenges brought about by the climate crisis comes the imperative to adapt and adjust its strategies. If climate action is not to be left behind by the climate crisis itself, L&D as we know it needs to be redefined.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

John Leo Algo is the National Coordinator of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, the Philippines's largest civil society network for climate action. He is also a member of the Youth Advisory Group for Environmental and Climate Justice, anchored in YECAP under agencies of the United Nations. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016.

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