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FANvoices | COP26 #1

Loss and Damage: Reparations for the Global South

by Johanns Stangl, Board Member of the Forum Alpbach Network

There are many aspects to the global debate on how to counteract the climate crisis, happening at the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow right now. First and most prominent, the huge topic of mitigation, i.e. the reduction of greenhouse gases in accordance with the Paris Agreement is being discussed. Second and because of already unavoidable consequences due to humanity’s excessive emissions, the topic of climate adaptation comes to light. In the face of increased weather extremes, the question remains of how countries and communities can become more climate resilient. In this context, international climate finance is crucial. In 2009, the rich nations of the Global North pledged to raise 100 billion dollars of annual financial support to help less wealthy countries with their adaptation and mitigation plans [1]. But right before the negotiations at COP26, it was revealed that this promise has never been fulfilled. It is estimated that the pledges by wealthy countries will not add up to the promised 100 billion dollars before the year 2023 [2]. Therefore a lot of tension was created ahead of COP26, as the promise on climate finance was decisive for island nations and other most affected countries to sign the critical Paris Agreement in the first place.

Figuring out just financial contributions towards the needs of Most Affected People and Areas (= MAPA), is already a touchy topic for countries that benefited the most from burning fossil fuels. But since emissions have been on a steady, accelerating rise since the climate conferences started in 1992 and the consequences already wreck havoc on the most vulnerable areas, a new agenda item has made its way on the agenda: Loss and Damage. Loss and damage refers to the – often irreversible – harms caused by the climate crisis, either through sudden-onset events such as cyclones or through slow-onset processes such as sea level rise. The climate crisis already poses an existential threat to many people and areas around the globe, as Simon Kofe, foreign minister of the island nation Tuvalu, demonstrated in his speech at COP26, delivered while standing in knee-deep seawater [3]. Or as Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate puts it: “There are things that we can no longer adapt to. We cannot adapt to extinction, we cannot adapt to starvation, we cannot adapt to our lost cultures, our lost traditions or our lost identities. So right now I want leaders to show us the money.” [4]

“To show money” not only for adaptation, but as additional compensation for the climate crisis, has been a long-held demand by the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group in the climate negotiations. But for the wealthiest countries establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage is a red line and sometimes even called a “Pandora’s Box”, since rich nations are afraid of being held accountable for climate induced casualties and damages they have caused around the world. This is why the Paris Agreement only mentions that the issue of loss and damage should be addressed, but establishes no mechanism on who should pay for it.

The tactics of rich nations to silently push back on this central question of climate justice increasingly fails to work [5]. In the face of an escalating climate crisis, the demand for rightful compensation for the most affected people and areas is gaining momentum. At COP26 I had the incredible privilege to meet fellow Fridays For Future activists from around the world that experience the climate crisis first-hand and fight for climate justice under the most adverse circumstances. What I learned is that to fight for climate justice in the Global North means putting their demands at the center of our activism and to amplify their call for reparations for the loss and damage in the Global South. I return from Glasgow with the chant written on the front banner of our joint climate strike still ringing in my ears: “Thepeople, united, will never be defeated.”




(c) Fridays For Future