As delegates work to solidify the framework for the Loss and Damage Fund at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, proponents of locally-led climate action are stressing the pivotal role that cities play in addressing climate-wrought losses within their marginalized communities.
Climate migrants and those who live in informal settlements are among the most vulnerable, said a panel of experts on urban loss and damage, co-hosted by C40 Cities and the Scottish government. These front-line urban communities, especially residents of densely-populated cities in a rapidly urbanizing Global South, need dedicated resources and solutions, they added, speaking just hours after COP delegates from nearly 200 countries adopted a draft framework on the long-awaited Loss and Damage Fund.
At last count, the fund had secured just over US$700 million in pledges, including $108 million from both France and Italy, and $100 million each from Germany and the United Arab Emirates. “The United States, which is historically the worst greenhouse gas emitter—and the largest producer of oil and gas this year,” has so far pledged $17.5 million, while Japan, the third-largest economy behind the U.S. and China, has offered $10 million, the Guardian reports. Canada has pledged less than US$12 million.
The United Kingdom’s pledge of $75 million has already come under fire from climate campaigners who point out that the funds are “neither new nor additional,” as required by the fund, but merely dollars recycled from “an existing and recently downgraded climate finance pledge.”
In any case, far more money will be needed to help communities increasingly shattered by climate impacts. Developing countries are looking for a minimum of $100 billion per year by 2030. Some estimates put the cost of annual damages as high as $580 billion, the Guardian notes.
‘Same Storm, Different Boats’
While climate hazards hit rural and urban areas alike, “many extreme events produce the highest economic and non-economic impacts in our cities, and these impacts mostly affect marginalized and most vulnerable residents,” said panel moderator Caterina Sarfatti, managing director for inclusion and global leadership at C40 Cities. “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.”
After affirming the draft framework as a “positive surprise,” Sarfatti urged policy-makers to be “vigilant” to ensure the final form of the fund “is fit for purpose for cities and local communities.”
Echoing the call for vigilance, Humza Yousaf, First Minister of Scotland, noted that the funding mechanism “must not increase the debt burden” already crushing the Global South. That is, the fund must not be delivered in the form of high-interest loans. Later in the discussion, he noted that any such outcome would be “unacceptable.”
Invoking the desperate need of communities displaced by the climate crisis, North Dhaka Mayor Mohammad Atiqul Islam, co-chair of the C40 migration task force, flagged the need for transparency in fund allocation, and for a clear and fair formula to calculate who gets how much money, and when.
Local Leaders Can Fill Action Gaps
Argentinian youth climate activist Nicole Becker, co-founder of Jóvenes Por El Clima (Youth for Climate), said the recent election of Javier Milei to the country’s presidency had intensified the need for a just and efficient loss and damage fund.
Coming from “a country where two out of three children live in poverty or don’t have access to basic human rights,” Becker said, “the next four years are going to be really hard with a president who denies the climate crisis.”
Given the absence of climate leadership at the top, she added, “it will be fundamental to have local action in Buenos Aires.”
And such action must address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable. “It’s not the same to face a heatwave when you have a house and you have access to energy and to drinkable water,” Becker said, noting that the city sweltered through nine heatwaves last summer.
‘Insurance Plan’ For The Poor
C40 Cities Co-Chair Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, urged participants to imagine the life of “say, a female trader, a single mom who ekes a living by selling vegetables or selling second hand clothes, and you live in an informal settlement which is created on the edge of a mangrove, and when the rain comes, as it happens more and more now, your life is literally washed away.”
Because this trader, like “hundreds of millions of people” in the Global South, has no insurance, she has “nothing to fall back on,” and could find that “single disaster” taking her back into a level of poverty from which she will never escape.
Sawyerr floated the possibility that some portion of the loss and damage fund might be used as “seed capital” toward an “insurance plan for the poor,” a backstop that would also help ensure the sustainability of the fund.
Affirming “the fundamental concept that those who are responsible for the climate crisis should pay for it,” she urged all parties to “get down to brass tacks” on the mechanism for delivery of loss and damage funding—and put cities at the centre of all discussions.
In a world where some national governments continue to deny the climate crisis, “local ownership and leadership” will be “critical” to ensure an operational framework for the fund that has the needs of the people at heart, she added.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo described her city’s ongoing experience with climate migrants seeking refuge. She said working to make the loss and damage fund operational will be critical to helping Paris succeed in its responsibility to ensure that everyone can “live together, leading better lives.”
‘Arguing About Apostrophes and Commas’
All panelists linked the urgent need for loss and damage funding with the imperative to phase out fossil fuels. Noting that the current trajectory for global heating will lead to 216 million people becoming climate migrants by 2050—with 16 million displaced in Bangladesh alone—North Dhaka Mayor Islam described the failure to limit warming to 1.5°C as a “death sentence” for future generations.
Speaking as a representative of the Global North, Yousaf likewise urged an “unequivocal” fossil fuel phaseout.
“The fact that we have got to COP28 without an agreement around fossil fuels, and they’re still arguing about apostrophes and commas, is an abdication of our responsibility to our future generations,” he said. “And I say that as somebody who leads a country that is known as the oil and gas capital of Europe.”
Sawyerr concluded the session by affirming “the power of collective action at the local government level.” Action that will ensure voices continue to be raised “for those who aren’t in this room who are facing the injustice of the climate crisis, most directly, for those for whom this is not just a conversation.”
Moderator Sarfatti announced the release of an inaugural C40 report on loss and damage: Loss and Damage and the Challenges and Opportunities for City Leadership.