Have developed countries made a promise similar to that of covering the sun with their hands?

Have developed countries made a promise similar to that of covering the sun with their hands?

By Alpha Djalon and Julie-Anne Richards
04 / 12 / 2023
Image credit: khaowkhaoyai (freepik)

As humans we avoid losing faith in any manifestation of good will. Nonetheless it is a challenge to accept pledges made to the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28 as a clear positive. Policies must support people's expectations, and the most important support expected of them is political responsibility. The call for solidarity is above all a call to respect responsibility and duty, and therefore a question of morality and climate ethics which demands support.

Citizens expect to receive support from the state - and from the global community of states - as they face catastrophic conditions not of their making. Cataclysmic events aplenty are now occurring due to the changing climate. In Libya, Mediterranean Storm Daniel’s torrential rains and subsequent floods led to the collapse of two dams in Derna and the death of more than 6,000 people. In East Africa, four years of devastating droughts were followed in November by heavy rains and intense flooding, killing more than 40 and inundating farmland, livestock and homes across Somalia and Kenya.  

The scale means that addressing losses and damage is not an easy task. The funds available must be substantial; they must also be capable of resolving multiple cataclysmic realities at a time. Whilst efforts so far can be welcomed, including those of the COP28 presidency in opening negotiations in Dubai with an agreement on the loss and damage fund, capitalisation of the Fund lags dramatically behind both needs and expectations. So far the scale of capitalisation versus needs is similar to that of covering the sun with one's hands and considering it extinguished. It is still a matter of the utmost urgency to capitalise with the maximum possible funds and also to simultaneously phase out fossil fuels.

In its interim report on the state of the world's climate, the WMO confirms that 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record. Data collected up to the end of October show that temperatures in 2023 exceeded those of the pre-industrial reference period (1850-1900) by around 1.4 degrees Celsius (°C) (with an uncertainty margin of ±0.12 °C). The difference between the values for 2023 and those for 2016 and 2020 - which were previously classified as the warmest years - is so great that it is highly unlikely that the last two months will change the situation.

This is why achieving carbon sobriety is more important than ever. Prevention is better than cure, this implies that, at the same time as we are seeking to mobilise funds for loss and damage, we must take urgent steps to reduce emissions. Mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage are now bound together. One should not take precedence over the other. At the same time as we are dealing with extreme and slow onset events using loss and damage funds, we must deal with the other two as well. We no longer live in a world where we can do one or the other.

Emergencies don't wait. Whenever economic or non-economic loss or damage occurs, there must be an imminent response. Therefore the Loss and Damage Fund must be capitalised to a level that facilitates an immediate response - to each of the climate emergencies that occur in developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. It is imperative that this be an independent and autonomous fund - not one driven by colonial ideas of who is “worthy” of support, nor one that allows contributors to call the shots and establish hoops to jump through. Loss and damage finance must not be given as a loan and fuel the existing debt crisis.

Humanity must be able to face up to the realities of Loss and Damage with solidarity and firmness. Solidarity means making it compulsory for major polluters to fill the loss and damage fund. Developing countries have set the expectation of a sum of US$100 billion dollars a year. This is well below actual needs of $400 billion each year. But far, far apart from the $712 million dollars promised.

A properly capitalised Loss and Damage Fund - that is able to provide a substantial portion of the $400 billion needed each year - will be essential in ensuring that the development aspirations of developing countries are not stymied and set back by spiralling costs of climate loss and damage.

Developed countries need to go back to capitals and have serious conversations about the scale of needs and their responsibility in providing solidarity to address them. The Global Stocktake (GST) here at COP can indicate the scale of current needs, and reflect the important role that the Loss and Damage Fund has in meeting those needs. The GST can reflect the responsibility of developed countries to step up and contribute at a far greater scale, and the need for new, polluter pays sources of finance - such as a frequent flyer levy, a maritime levy and a tax on the fossil fuel industry - to be explored as significant new contribution, and in a way where costs fall upon wealthy polluters and not ordinary citizens.

In this way COP28 can provide guidance - and foreshadow a future where the moral question of climate ethics is answered. And where we do not fool ourselves that covering the sun with our hands has dealt with its intensity.

Alpha Djalon: New Generation of Negotiators (NGN), where he currently coordinates strategic activities and team capacity building. NGN is a group of young international negotiators working together as part of the Climate Leadership Initiative (CLI) with the support of the Loss and Damage Collaboration (L&DC) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Alpha is Also, the Technical Assistant to the National Designated Authority (NDA) at Guinea's Green Climate Fund (GCF). He supports the proposal to prepare the Agence Nationale pour le Financement des Collectivités Locales (ANAFIC) to strengthen the institutional capacities of the NDA and national stakeholders for climate finance and improve the country's programming process in Guinea. He is the beneficiary of a large grant from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF) Entitled: "Increasing community resilience to unexpected internal climate migration in Lower Guinea, through the relocation and resettlement of affected communities in Kaback, Republic of Guinea (2022-2024)''.

Since 2016, Alpha has led a non-profit organisation that aims to be a pan-African network of environmentalists and is the Executive Director and Project Manager of this AlfaVert NGO. He served as Project Manager and Executive Director of Greentransformation2050 from 2018. He is also Associate Partner and Project Manager of GREENDEEVE_Sarl.

Julie-Anne Richards is the Loss and Damage Collaboration’s Strategy Lead. She has two decades of experience working on the climate crisis, has written extensively on loss and damage, and campaigned with civil society and in collaboration with vulnerable countries on the need for loss and damage finance.