In the coming weeks, you may hear the phrase "loss and damage" as government leaders gather in Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
It refers to the economic and physical costs that developing countries face as a result of climate change. Many of the world's most climate-vulnerable nations have contributed little to global warming, yet they are experiencing extreme heat waves, floods, and other climate-related catastrophes. They want wealthier nations, which have historically been the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, to pay for the damage. In the summer of 2022, extreme rainfall following a glacier-melting heat wave flooded nearly one-third of Pakistan, providing a powerful example.
The flooding transformed Pakistan's farmland into lakes that were miles wide and isolated communities for weeks. More than 1,700 people were killed, millions lost their homes and means of subsistence, and more than 4 million acres of crops, orchards, and livestock were flooded or damaged. Due to the breeding of mosquitoes in the stagnant water, an increase in malaria cases ensued.
Pakistan contributes less than one percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. However, greenhouse gases do not respect national boundaries; emissions from anywhere impact the global climate. Climate change may have increased the intensity of Pakistan's precipitation by as much as 50 percent, according to some studies.
There has been little progress toward incorporating a financial mechanism for these payments into international climate agreements despite the fact that the issue of payments for loss and damage has been a point of negotiation at United Nations climate conferences nearly every year since 1995.
Africa's climate conference
Given that Egypt will host this year's United Nations climate conference, it's not surprising that loss and damage will be the focal point. Africa is home to several of the world's most climate-vulnerable countries despite having some of the lowest national greenhouse gas emissions.
To combat climate change, these countries – many of which are among the world's poorest – will need to invest in adaptation measures such as seawalls, climate-smart agriculture, and infrastructure that is more resistant to extreme heat and storms. The Adaptation Gap Report, published by the UN Environment Program on 3 November 2022, found that developing countries require five to ten times more international adaptation financing than wealthier countries are providing.
When climate-related disasters strike, countries require additional financial aid for relief efforts, infrastructure repairs, and recovery. This represents loss and harm.
Egypt emphasises the need for wealthy nations to make greater strides in providing financial assistance for adaptation and loss and damage.
Climate injustice and damage and loss
The discussion of loss and damage is inherently concerned with equity. It raises the question of why countries that have contributed little to global warming should pay for the damage caused by the emissions of wealthy nations.
This also makes it controversial. The negotiators are aware that the concept of payments for loss and damage could lead to further discussions regarding financial compensation for historical injustices, such as slavery in the United States or colonial exploitation by European powers.
At COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, negotiators made progress on a number of crucial issues, including the adoption of stricter emission targets and commitments to double adaptation financing for developing nations. Advocates attempting to establish a financial mechanism for wealthy nations to finance losses and damages in developing nations viewed COP26 as a failure.