The one constant in climate change is that those facing the worst impacts are rarely the same as those responsible for causing the problem. This injustice is behind the rising of youth around the world at the #schoolstrikes inspired by the amazing Greta Thunberg. It is also true for the communities on the frontline of the worst climate impacts facing loss and damage.
Loss and damage occurs when the impacts of climate change go beyond the limits of adaptation. It can already be seen in small Pacific Islands where communities who live subsistence lifestyles, drawing on the sea and on home grown coconuts and taro for their traditional food, face rising seas and the loss of their land and culture. It can be seen in Africa, responsible for less than 4% of climate pollution, yet the continent that will suffer the most from climate change with worse droughts, floods and landslides . Cyclones too have increased in intensity , as evidenced by Cyclone Idai which killed 839 people and affected more than 3 million people, displacing many from their homes, and destroying more than 3,300 classrooms. The people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe were already suffering from food shortages caused by drought before Idai hit .
These two groups, youth and vulnerable communities, are also challenged by a lack of power in decision making. Young people not yet able to vote or stand in parliament are striking in the #FridaysForFuture movement in an effort to make their voices heard. The vulnerable people on the front line of climate impacts have their governments and civil society advocating for climate justice on their behalf, but often these efforts are overwhelmed by powerful countries who prefer that business as usual continue – with few concerns for the consequences.
Loss and Damage: No finance committment at the UN
The UN body that is tasked to deal with the worst impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), met last week. Despite vulnerable countries and civil society trying to ensure the body addressed finance for loss and damage, rich countries and the co-chairs of the meeting ensured that it stayed off the agenda. The US, Australia, Norway and Germany all spoke to keep finance off the agenda for another year. This is, indeed, how it normally goes, with the rich countries better prepared and willing to be ruthless to ensure that they don’t have to address the needs that vulnerable communities face.
Civil society were so frustrated that we offered to run a workshop for the members of the WIM, and any other delegate that is interested, on loss and damage finance in June when the UNFCCC next meets. In particular we want to highlight new, polluter pays sources of climate finance that should be put in place to raise money for loss and damage. For instance a Climate Damages Tax, forcing the fossil fuel industry to pay for its climate damage, could raise $300 billion a year for vulnerable communities, and even more to help communities transition from fossil fuels to clean, green jobs, energy and transport.
A Climate Damages Tax – and a rapid phase out of fossil fuels – is so important as it is the fossil fuel industry that is knowingly continuing to dig, drill and pollute the climate, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities around the world and stealing the future from our youth. Big oil and big coal have known about climate change for decades but instead of taking action they have paid deniers to lobby politicians, and undertaken disinformation campaigns to stymie action. All to keep making the dirtiest profits. They must be the ones to pay for the damage they have done – not poor people and not the youth.
As Greta Thunberg said, we live in a strange world. A world where it is seen as “radical” to suggest that protecting the planet we rely upon for life itself is more important than the profits of the fossil fuel industry. Climate justice demands that we reconsider what we value. For those facing impacts in the present, and for those trying to claim back their future.
Julie-Anne attended the 9th meeting of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Executive Committee in April 2019 in order to advocate for a climate and gender just approach to loss and damage, including providing finance at the scale needed by communities on the frontline of climate impacts.
 Amadou Sy. Africa: Financing Adaptation and Mitigation in the World’s Most Vulnerable Region. Brookings Institution. 2016.
 Jennifer Fitchett. Why has tropical cyclone Idai been so destructive? New Statesman. 21 March 2019.
 Southern African Development Committee. SADC Regional Humanitarian Floods Appeal in Response to Tropical Cyclone IDAI. 11 April 2019.