Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a £1-million fund to help vulnerable countries cope with “loss and damage” due to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, a small contribution that could have an outsized impact in pushing a serious, longstanding issue toward the centre of the COP 26 negotiating table.
“We don’t have the resources of other western governments, but we can lead by example,” Sturgeon was expected to tell an event Monday in the COP Green Zone, a space set aside at the annual UN conference for civil society sessions and networking.
“Through our work on climate justice, Scotland continues to proudly support nations which—despite having done the least to cause climate change—are already suffering its impact,” she said, adding that Scotland would work with the Washington, DC-based Climate Justice Resilience Fund to address loss and damage. “I hope this will galvanize other organizations to support the partnership—and show world leaders that where small nations lead they can follow, by making similarly ambitious commitments during COP 26.”
For developing country heads of state addressing the opening session of the COP on Monday, that momentum is vastly long overdue.
“Fellow leaders, from Seychelles, our message is simple: we have to act immediately,” said Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan. “Let the change be a real one, let the paradigm shift happen. May those who exploit without thinking of tomorrow stop. May we realize that in this battle to save our planet, we are in the same boat—big, small, rich, or poor. The time to act is yesterday.”
“When will leaders lead?” asked Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. “Our people are watching, and our people are taking note. And are we really going to leave Scotland without the resolve and the ambition that is sorely needed to save lives and to save our planet? Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?”
“Although we bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, we benefit the least from existing solutions and financial arrangements currently in place for tackling climate change,” said Liberia President George Weah. “In order to address this imbalance, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we tackle mismatched climate investment.”
“The money pledged to the least developed nations by developed nations is not a donation, but a cleaning fee,” said Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera. “Neither Africa in general, nor Malawi in particular, will take no for an answer. Not anymore.”
Loss and damage is widely considered one of the three pillars of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, alongside greenhouse gas emission reductions and climate change adaptation. Recognition of loss and damage was seen as one of the success stories coming out of COP 24, the 2018 UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland.
As distinct from adaptation—the funding and on-the-ground projects aimed at helping vulnerable countries and regions prepare for the impacts of the climate emergency—loss and damage calls for compensation for outcomes that no amount of money can reverse. Examples would include a small island state at risk of disappearing beneath the rising oceans, or infiltration of sea water that literally salts the earth and destroys formerly arable farmland.
The discussion of loss and damage “seeks to build support for joint financing, commensurate with different economies’ contributions to climate change, to address all the destruction of resources, homes, ecosystems, and livelihoods that mitigation and adaptation cannot prevent,” Bahamian poet and climate activist Bernard Ferguson explained in June, after Hurricane Dorian had ripped through his country.
Since the 2015 Paris conference, some island states and other developing nations have pleaded—largely in vain—for “clear and predictable” finance streams, with Harjeet Singh, senior advisor at Climate Action Network-International, telling Ferguson that actual losses and damage from the climate crisis will run “between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030”. But loss and damage “is something that really rich countries, particularly the U.S., have made sure there is no progress and not even discussion on.”
The net result is that “money that should have gone to education, health care, infrastructure is now being diverted to emergency response and rehabilitation and reconstruction, which puts developing countries into a vicious cycle of poverty and debt,” he added.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry was asked about the issue at a news conference Monday.
“Obviously, the United States remains concerned about not opening up some legal track with respect to liability, and we don’t intend to do that,” he responded. “So, whatever we do will have to be within the framework. But we also know that there’s real loss and damage out there, that there are nation-states that are talking about where their people are going to move because the sea level is rising. There are areas where people can no longer live. And there are migrants moving around the planet as a consequence of the destruction of habitat. So, you can’t ignore that.”
The £1 million from Scotland won’t put a dent into such a large and growing humanitarian and financial challenge. But “as a political signal on the importance of addressing loss and damage and putting some money on the table,” Sturgeon’s statement could still have a major impact, Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, told a news conference Monday.