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The key challenges that emerged at the ‘Addressing Loss and Damage: Practical Action’ conference

In this blog we reflect on the key issues that emerged during a two-day conference on Loss and Damage, hosted by the Scottish Government, the High-Level Climate Champions and the Global Resilience Partnership that saw delegates from all over the world come together to discuss how talk about loss and damage can be turned into practical action.

GRP Value addition: Convening diverse voices Theme: Climate change

The 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) is around the corner, and with it, so are discussions about loss and damage – the need to compensate those most affected by the catastrophic impacts of climate change and for whom adaptation is no longer an option. 

In this blog we reflect on the key issues that emerged during a two-day conference on Loss and Damage, hosted by the Scottish Government, the High-Level Climate Champions and the Global Resilience Partnership that saw delegates from all over the world come together to discuss how talk about loss and damage can be turned into practical action. A second blog with the key solutions that were identified and recommendations for COP27 will follow.

Over two days, delegates engaged in rich discussions and workshops to delve deep into all aspects of loss and damage, the impact it is having on people all over the world, and how to raise the finance needed. 

Some key aspects united all stakeholders present, from the First Minister of Scotland to business, leaders from nations most vulnerable to climate change and climate activists: the need to act urgently to address climate-related loss and damage, the fundamental injustice of climate change disproportionately affecting communities in the global south and the need to ensure they are supported with adequate and additional finance for adaptation and mitigation.

“We are beyond adaptation – you can’t adapt to the loss of your farm, island, history, culture. You can’t adapt to starvation” – panellist from Uganda 

But when delving into discussion about how this can be achieved, three fundamental questions remained. 

1. Where does the money come from? 

Financing for loss and damage has long been a contentious issue and continues to meet huge resistance from the global north, especially when framed as reparations from the most polluting countries to those least responsible for climate change. 

“The prescription of blame has shut down many discussions, particularly in the US and Europe. The moral  argument doesn’t land” – workshop participant from the UK 

In the face of this challenge, delegates discussed at length the possible mechanisms that could be used to leverage additional finance and ensure that the burden does not continue to fall on those facing loss and damage: the communities and governments of states who have so far born the human and financial cost of climate change. 

The lack of action by high income countries so far has been deeply disheartening. However, innovation in the private sector and the leadership of governments like Scotland, Denmark and Wallonia, who have committed funding for loss and damage, can act as catalyst for commitments by national Governments at COP27. 

Ultimately, as was emphasised by most speakers, including the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and High-Level Champion Nigel Topping, all types of finance – public, private, blended, insurance and innovative methods from carbon levies to credits – will need to be explored. 

2. How do we get funding to the right places? 

Beyond raising the finance for loss and damage, ensuring it reaches those who need it most was one of the challenges frequently mentioned. As is the case with adaptation, ensuring loss and damage responses are locally led and equitably governed is key to providing communities with what they need. 

90% of the cost of loss and damage is born by the victims themselves. Of the remaining 10%, around 5% is provided by national governments to support victims in the immediate aftermath of an event. Funding from the global community is made available much later, often depending on whether CNN covered the event” – workshop participant from Bangladesh

Approaches to loss and damage still often fail to be inclusive of those that are most affected by climate change. This exclusion is clearest when looking at who makes decisions about the scale of need (usually risk assessors on behalf of donors) and their proposed solutions. 

Delegates agreed that communities should be at the heart of the measurement and assessment of the risks they are exposed to but recognised the lack of capacity and technical knowledge to do so systematically. At the same time, overly technical risk appraisals were often found to be met with resistance by local people and to miss the multiplicity of risks that might affect them. 

3. How do we get funding to flow quickly? 

While the establishment of a financing facility for loss and damage at COP27 is a key priority for many delegates, ensuring funding is mobilised rapidly to directly reach those who need it is of utmost importance, especially in the aftermath of climate disasters and given that the pace of action at the COP and other UN processes rarely meets the urgent needs of those on the ground.

Grants and direct cash access were seen as the preferred options for communities to respond rapidly, but the granting of funds is often slowed and complicated by bureaucracy and onerous reporting requirements. Those who have encountered these challenges in seeking to access the Green Climate Fund and adaptation funding were cautious of replicating the same dynamics within the context of loss and damage.

“We may push for a devolution of power but when there is a funder from the north and a politician from the south, the power is always in the hands of the north” – workshop participant from Malawi 

Worries about insurance schemes were also raised, since they had the potential to further put the onus of addressing loss and damage to those affected by it, who were expected to take out the insurance and potentially pay a premium for it. 

Where do we go from here? 

Though there is no simple or straightforward answer to the questions and challenges that emerged, learning from those who have already been addressing loss and damage – like the delegates from Sri Lanka, Malawi, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vanuatu and many others – and working through possible solutions with others at the conference gives us hope.

The next piece will highlight some of these solutions and how we might champion them at COP27.