Fossil fuel companies’ responsibility for climate crises was brought to international attention after Super-Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines during COP 19. Eight years later, with COP 26 delegates marking Loss and Damage Day yesterday, world leaders are again convened at a climate summit and balking at loss and damage agendas, while an inquiry into carbon majors’ liability for Haiyan is still forthcoming.
On Monday, Climate Action Network-International issued a call to action for world leaders to “deliver on loss and damage finance now,” while, speakers from front-line communities shared their experiences at the summit.
“We really want [the carbon majors] to acknowledge that they are profiting from our suffering,” said Filipina climate activist Marinel Ubaldo, whose home was destroyed by Haiyan. “We want them to acknowledge that they should be accountable, and they are legally liable for the human rights violations linked to climate impacts. We want them to change their business practices because we cannot [continue] business as usual.”
Super-Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people when it struck the Philippines just as COP 19 convened in 2013. The tragedy prompted the country’s chief negotiator at the time, Yeb Saño, to deliver an impassioned convention statement on Haiyan’s impacts, which he said “represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.”
And yet global climate action is still lacking, and the impacts continue to get worse. Jo Dodds, president of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, described a blaze that destroyed 69 homes in her small town of Tathra, New South Wales. Since then, she “has lived in fear,” she said, due to repeated annual bushfires over the last three years. In 2019, 3,000 homes burned in a massive fire on Australia’s East Coast, and at least 400 people died just from breathing the smoke.
And climate damages go beyond the physical destruction and health impacts. “It’s actually the mental health that we’re not even coming close to addressing,” Dodds stressed, adding that people are traumatized by “the compounding of disaster after disaster.” It is not a single event anymore, but rather a “lifestyle of catastrophe,” she said.
Bushfire “season” now runs all year round in Australia, many families that were burned out years ago are still living in tents, and the level of fear and distress is making it more difficult to take decisions and get things done, she told media. Yet the climate-denying government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues its embrace of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) while showing up as one of the biggest sources of climate obstruction at this year’s COP.
An increasing number of studies attribute the rise in disaster events to global temperatures rising, largely due to the actions of wealthy countries. And as participants have said and heard from the beginning of COP 26, the most vulnerable countries are being hit by climate change the hardest. A new report by Christian Aid projects that vulnerable countries will suffer damages equal to 33% of GDP by the end of the century, even if the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target is reached. Worse scenarios with higher temperature rise could result in damages of up to 64% of GDP.
But even though the countries facing the worst impacts are also usually the least responsible, world leaders are still delaying just solutions. Dodd said policy-makers are starting to say the right things, but “we need to see the walk.”
After years of discussion, there is still no clear way to establish liability and compensation for the destruction imposed on vulnerable countries, and UN News says world leaders have been disputing interpretations of how the 2015 Paris agreement’s use of the term “loss and damage” obliges wealthy countries to bear responsibility. Six years since the agreement’s adoption, “developing countries still need to fight for having an agenda for loss and damage,” said Sven Harmeling, international climate policy coordinator at CARE International.
This year, negotiators are saying their goal is to leave COP 26 with an outcome that will help affected countries adapt to a world changed by global emissions, said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate negotiations at the World Resources Institute. But as those talks unfold, “it is worth noting that human rights, empowerment, and capacity matter to hold effectively accountable the key stakeholders, governments, and all of us.”
Climate crisis survivors say the countries that are disproportionately suffering climate impacts should have a stronger voice at events like the COP 26. “Resilience comes from the grassroots, comes from the communities—this notion of building resilience from the top is completely a fallacy. It has to come from the bottom,” said Dodds.
Unfortunately, those very communities are often excluded and disenfranchised in climate negotiations. “There’s been quite a number of areas where developing countries have been constantly silenced by developed countries and where there’s no progress,” said Harmeling.
Dodds added that, in Australia, she and other disaster survivors are being told to “keep quiet…to stop talking about climate, stop making it political.”
But suppressing those communities can only enfeeble loss and damage outcomes. “If we don’t have those voices who are representing the people who need justice in the climate fight, we’re going to miss the big opportunities and the big risks to people like my community, like communities experiencing the typhoons, the floods,” Dodds said. “The damage is within us.”