Africa’s climate has warmed more than the global average since pre-industrial times. Similarly, sea level rise along the continent’s coastlines is faster than the global average, contributing to increased frequency and severity of coastal flooding and low-lying erosion.
Rising temperatures have led to frequent and intense heat waves, extensive flooding, tropical cyclones and prolonged droughts, which have undermined human life, had a negative effect on food and water security and hampered the socio-economic development of the continent.
Extreme weather patterns have caused significant damage to homes and infrastructure and have displaced millions of people. A recent study found that, in aggregate dollar terms, the world’s 20 most climate-vulnerable economies have lost about $525 billion over the past two decades as a result of climate change and will continue to see negative effects on their GDP growth. , even if global efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C.
These events have further fueled calls from developing nations in Africa and the global south for an independent “loss and damage” fund and the issue was prioritized at the United Nations Climate Conference of the Parties (COP27). held in Egypt for the past two weeks.
Climate finance is generally intended to help developing countries transition to renewable energy sources and adapt to the future effects of climate change.
Loss and damage financing is intended to compensate developing countries for losses they have already incurred or will inevitably incur as a result of a climate crisis over which they had little control.
Although the financing of loss and damage remains a contentious issue, recent commitments from Germany, Ireland, Scotland and Denmark indicate progress. This should be used as an opportunity to encourage more involvement from developed nations to address some of the remaining issues surrounding an independent “loss and damage” fund.
What is loss and damage?
Loss and damage refers to the adverse and often irreversible effects of climate change on people and nature beyond natural climate variability. The issue was first mentioned in the text during the COP13 conference in Bali in 2007, referring to the need for more action on the issue, but no real promises were made.
Loss and damage came up again at the climate talks in Copenhagen at COP16, but again no suggestions were made on how to develop or implement a related financing mechanism. But the issue has gained increasing traction during global climate talks and was a priority negotiation topic at COP27.
As the financial fallout from the climate catastrophe worsens, a number of nations are calling for global financial systems grounded in notions of justice and solidarity and informed by the political dimension of the problem. Developing country governments are searching for answers and are now advocating the creation of a global financial system that would provide ongoing assistance to help countries recover from climate-related catastrophes. This is a critical issue for Africa.
Political, technical obstacles
According to the African Development Bank, seven of the 10 countries most susceptible to climate change are in Africa. Africa’s population is expected to grow substantially by 2050, hosting at least 25% of the world’s population by then.
Climate migration is growing in severity, as people in the poorest regions of the continent are driven from environments that can no longer support them due to extreme weather patterns. Weather-related calamities displaced around 2.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021, and this trend is projected to continue as temperatures rise. According to the World Bank, there will be up to 85.7 million climate migrants in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.
Despite these alarming trends, developed nations have been hesitant to address the loss and damage associated with climate change. Instead, Africa has been promised a three-year dialogue, “to discuss arrangements for funding activities to avoid, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change.”
Financing remains a contentious issue for countries like the United States, which worry that committing to a loss and damage fund would expose them to future legal liability and litigation. Some developed nations worry that paying such a fund could be construed as admitting guilt, potentially leading to future legal battles.
Despite US climate envoy John Kerry stating that his country “fully supports” efforts to address loss and damage, the US has largely backtracked or dodged on the issue.
In addition, the US and the European Union continue to sidestep the problem of loss and damage while investing in and profiting from African fossil fuel projects. Since signing on to limit global warming in the 2015 Paris climate accord, the US government has invested more than $9 billion in African oil and gas projects and has pledged just $682 million for development. of sustainable energy.
Over the past decade, the US has reportedly supported coal mining in South Africa, oil drilling in Nigeria and a huge gas project in Mozambique as part of a plan to “expand US exports across the continent.” ”.
How should the loss be paid?
The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement clearly recognizes the “importance of avoiding, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” But there are differing views on what a loss and damage fund should be or contain, including whether loss and damage is a type of liability and whether compensation or even reparation is necessary.
One-time payments from developed nations are unrealistic because climate consequences are expected to worsen in the future, causing far greater damage. A facility such as a solidarity fund is an appropriate option because it does not transfer liabilities. But it will not push the richest nations to mobilize funds (as demonstrated by the promise of $100 billion a year made by developed countries).
Examples can be taken from Scotland and Denmark, which have offered targeted climate finance under loss and damage with a pledge of $7.3 million and $13 million, respectively. This is part of the Climate Justice Fund created at COP26.
Belgium has pledged $2.5 million in loss and damage funds to Mozambique, while Austria and New Zealand have dedicated themselves to financing loss and damage in the world’s most vulnerable countries. Germany and Ireland have also pledged to fund the Global Shield initiative, which commits to providing weather risk insurance and prevention support for nations at risk.
These individual commitments remain “a drop in the ocean compared to what is necessary”, The conversation reported, and they are far from the expected constant and global systemic reaction. An international consensus is needed at the UN. This consensus should include clear guidelines on what constitutes loss and damage, how it is calculated, and which countries qualify for compensation.
Guidelines are also needed on how a loss and damage financing mechanism will be supported over time, as well as a reporting framework for recipient countries to follow to ensure funds are spent correctly.
It is clear that Africa has yet to adapt to the damage caused by climate change and developed countries must increase their investment in helping African countries to do so. The costs of recovering and rebuilding from disasters on the continent are beyond the financial capacity of governments, leaving nations more vulnerable to future climate effects and undermining community health and well-being.
By 2030, Africa will require more than $3 trillion to adapt to the effects of climate change (and that excludes the costs of loss and damage). As the climate catastrophe worsens, the gap between the costs of severe consequences and the ability of nations to pay widens, increasing global inequality and adding urgency to the discourse on loss and damage.
Leleti Maluleke is a researcher in the human security and climate change program at Good Governance Africa.