In October of 2009 the then President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, held a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the impacts of sea level rise on his country, an archipelago of 185 islands in the Indian Ocean, and other small island developing states (SIDS) and vulnerable developing countries. Upon emerging to the surface President Nasheed said:
“We are trying to send our message to let the world know what is happening and what will happen to the Maldives if climate change isn’t checked.”
The event captured the world’s attention weeks before COP15 in Copenhagen but failed to inspire the action needed to avoid loss and damage in vulnerable developing countries. Thirteen years after that historic cabinet meeting and with 1.1℃ global average warming realised, climate change it nowhere close to being “checked”. We are now firmly in an era of Loss and Damage resulting from inadequate mitigation ambition and adaptation action. The Maldives continues to provide leadership, now with a focus on mobilising action and support to address loss and damage at the scale of the needs in vulnerable developing countries.
And what are the needs? A seminal study published in 2017 projected that the economic costs in developing countries would be between 290 and 580 billion USD a year by 2030 and would rise to 1,132 to 1,741 billion USD a year by 2050. This does not include non-economic loss and damage (NELD) like loss of culture and loss of loved ones, that is not captured by monetary systems. This study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic setback development and decreased the resilience of vulnerable developing countries, leading to even more loss and damage.
On the margins of the opening of the UN General Assembly in September of 2022, the Maldives’ Minister of Environment, Shauna Aminath, called for a “mosaic of approaches” to address loss and damage. In a joint plenary closing the subsidiary bodies last Saturday night, the Minister of State Khadeeja Naseem further elaborated on what this mosaic of approaches might look like. First. she described what a successful outcome looks like for the Maldives which includes:
• Strong and ambitious action to stay well below 1.5C ;
• Adopting a visionary and transformational framework for the global goal on adaptation; and
• Adopting a mosaic of solutions to address loss and damage and finance it at scale.
Then, she unpacked the mosaic of solutions to address loss and damage. The mosaic includes a new fit-for-purpose multilateral fund designated as an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with a specific focus on mobilising and dispersing finance to address loss and damage. It also means developed countries stepping up and delivering concrete actions and delivering propositions for innovative finance for Loss and Damage. And finally, a mosaic of solutions means finance flowing to address the needs on the ground both for addressing economic and non-economic loss and damage (NELD) from slow onset climatic processes and extreme weather events.
And make no mistake, we can mobilise finance at the scale of the needs to ensure that each human on the planet has the tools they need not just to survive in the midst of global challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, but to thrive. Aminath told the Guardian earlier this year, wealthy countries have found the finance needed to cope with and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in the Ukraine. She argued that:
“The issue is the lack of political will and the refusal to see the climate crisis as an emergency.”
In her moving speech during the opening of the high level segment of COP27, the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley dressed down the political leaders in attendance, telling them: “We have the collective capacity to transform”. So why don’t we?
The mosaic of solutions is a good starting point for a holistic approach to transformation on all fronts; one that meets the needs, all of the needs, at all levels. That starts with work under the UNFCCC which the Maldives laid out in its statement above and also includes work outside the UNFCCC in parallel. Working on one front does not mean we don’t need to work on the other. The mosaic of solutions must not be used to divert responsibility for addressing loss and damage from inside to outside the equity principles of the UNFCCC. But, certainly we will also need to transform systems outside the UNFCCC.
To start with, adequate finance must be provided as soon as a climate related disaster occurs and it must meet the needs on the ground. Minister Aminath argued that support must go beyond the “standard disaster response”, which is already slow and inadequate, to recognise and address the impacts on wellbeing that remain long after physical infrastructure has been rebuilt. She maintained that:
“Any discussion of loss and damage must recognise these socio-economic impacts. Climate change means our fiscal base is shrinking. This affects our social protections.”
The mosaic of approaches must include support to develop and strengthen social protection systems that provide safety nets when loss and damage strikes and help households and communities build resilience to climate impacts. The Global Shield has promised it will deliver on national social safety nets - but will it strengthen them? Or will it replace public sector options with private sector responses such as insurance?
In the mosaic of approaches outside the UNFCCC the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank must provide more support for developing countries. This must include debt relief and should prioritise debt cancellation. The burden of debt hampers the capacity of vulnerable developing countries to address loss and damage and impedes sustainable development. As Prime Minister Mottley said in her speech:
“How many more countries must falter, particularly in a world that is now suffering the consequences of war and inflation and countries therefore are unable to meet the challenges of finding the necessary resources to finance their way to net zero. This world still looks too much like it did when it was part of an imperialistic empire.”
Prime Minister Mottley and her economic advisor and climate finance envoy Avinash Persaud have developed the Bridgetown Initiative to address three three interconnected crises:
• The cost of living crisis caused by the war in the Ukraine and the response and recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic;
• The debt crisis facing many developing countries exacerbated by the pandemic and climate-related disasters; and
• The climate crisis.
The Initiative is based on the premise that a new financial system is needed to ensure that all countries have the resources they need to address climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. While the Bridgetown Initiative focuses on the work to be done outside the UNFCCC, Motley has been clear in articulating her expectations for the UNFCCC to deliver ambitious action on all fronts: mitigation, adaptation and Loss and Damage. Keeping global warming below 1.5℃ is essential as is scaling up adaptation and addressing loss and damage. A recent blog from E3G articulates the linkages and potential bridges to strengthen them between the Initiative and work under the UNFCCC.
Clearly we have our work cut out for us. Sharm-el-Sheik is the best opportunity for decades to stand with the vulnerable countries already facing extreme climate impacts - from the Maldives, to Pakistan, to Kenya, to the Pacific. Let’s use COP27 to ensure the international community establishes the necessary institutions to support vulnerable countries so they don’t face these insurmountable challenges on their own. Let’s focus on inside the UNFCCC and get that right over the next few days by establishing an operating entity to address loss and damage under the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. And then let’s make sure we get the outside work right too. Because mobilising trillions is going to require all hands on deck.