Solidarity and support required to address losses and damages

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Even if significant efforts were made to mitigate emissions and adapt to the effects of the climate crisis, it would be too late for those communities across the world that are already experiencing the catastrophic impacts of climate-related losses and damages. Contributors to a new report from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance explain why urgent action on a global scale is needed to help those affected – now, and in the future.

A life upended by the climate crisis

Turono has spent his entire life in Pekalongan on the north coast of Java, Indonesia. His family has lived here for four generations, producing mangoes, fish, and jasmine tea – but frequent flooding has taken its toll, to the point where he says, he no longer recognizes his village. The family mango plantation he visited in his youth is now underwater, and the rest of the residents have been forced to leave – including his parents, whose house was destroyed by flooding. Turono’s wife and children have also been evacuated for their own safety.

For now, however, he isn’t going anywhere. He continues to work as a boat and water pump operator, and is passionate about maintaining the existential status of his village out of a moral responsibility to his ancestors.

Turono stands amongst the ruins of a flood-damaged house in Pekalongan, Indonesia. Photo: Ezra Millstein, Mercy Corps

Losses and damages: a global concern

Turono’s situation is far from unique. All over the world, communities are experiencing life-changing – and often life-threatening – upheaval due to the impact of the climate crisis. In Nepal, unseasonal (and therefore unexpected) flooding has devastated vital, yet-to-be-harvested crops; in Bangladesh, flash flooding caused by the highest recorded rainfall in 100 years severely affected over seven million people; over six months on from its own catastrophic flood event, recovery efforts in Pakistan remain significantly under-resourced; and in just the last couple of weeks, Cyclone Freddy in southern Africa and Cyclone Yaku in Peru have levelled buildings and displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Examples like these underline the importance of not only significantly reducing the emissions that are contributing to the climate crisis, but also ensuring communities become more resilient to climate-related shocks and stresses. They also show the limits of such efforts; in Indonesia and elsewhere, climate-related losses and damages are already happening, and causing chaos.

The limits of local action

Alongside his job, Turono also works regularly with local stakeholders involved in the area’s climate response. However, even as his country and others are establishing new approaches for addressing the issue, it is evident that affected developing countries cannot avert, minimize, and address losses and damages alone. In Pekalongan and elsewhere, comprehensively tackling the issue of flooding is far beyond the local government’s current capacity; and as we have seen in Pakistan, national and international humanitarian response systems are often overstretched and underfunded.

Evidence shows that countries affected by climate change are putting in place systems to respond to economic and non-economic losses and damages – but without international solidarity, these efforts will fall far short of addressing the scale of the crisis.

Colin McQuistan, Head of Climate Resilience, Practical Action

Where some risks are being avoided (or at least reduced) through adaptation and other risk management actions, these are rarely as effective as is required. In Bangladesh, for example, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has implemented a number of social protection programs that provide funding for people affected by disasters. However, only 13% of the poorest households actually receive the full scope of available benefits.

The implications of such an environment are not hard to see; in 2015, rural households in Bangladesh spent an estimated $2 billion on climate and disaster risk management – double what was spent by the government and more than 12 times what was received from multilateral institutions. The fact that this money was diverted away from meeting basic needs such as food, education and healthcare, served only to exacerbate levels of poverty and leave communities even less prepared for future disasters.

For vulnerable communities in Bangladesh facing ever more intense floods and droughts, along with erratic rainfall patterns and relentless river erosion, options are decreasing day by day. Climate change is showing no mercy on these people; the search for a safe place to live is becoming a never-ending struggle.

Afsari Begum, Program Manager, Concern Worldwide in Bangladesh

Responding to the full spectrum of the Loss and Damage challenge means that we must mitigate the causes of climate change, adapt to its impacts, and support vulnerable households who are facing the catastrophic consequences. Only by addressing the complete range of mitigation, adaptation, protection and response gaps, can we create a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

Barbara Rosen Jacobson, Advocacy Advisor, Mercy Corps

It’s time to close the gaps

Global efforts to avert and minimize losses and damages, including through mitigation and adaptation, have been woefully inadequate – and at COP27, the sidelining of these approaches was cause for concern. Massive investments are required to prevent and manage avoidable losses and damages for the most vulnerable people; at a minimum, developed nations should make good on the commitment to provide $100 billion of climate finance per year, with 50% for adaptation, and a focus on grants rather than loans.

Shock-responsive social protection programs also have their part to play; by learning the lessons from the instances where these have proven effective, national and international actors can create or strengthen programs that reduce the ‘protection gap’.

In communities like Turono’s that are already experiencing losses and damages, new approaches are urgently required – including the establishment and operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP27 – to ensure that the most vulnerable women, men, and children do not bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

In its latest report, the IPCC strongly warns of the escalation of the climate crisis; there is no time to waste. As negotiations on Loss and Damage progress, the framework and evidence presented by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance has the potential to inform the process and ensure support reaches the most vulnerable.

Reinhard Mechler, Research Group Leader and Senior Research Scholar, IIASA

The next steps on losses and damages

UNFCCC’s Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage will meet for the first time and begin the challenging process of turning the agreement made at COP27 into tangible financial support. Given the short timeframe and urgency of the issue, it is paramount that the negotiators and other climate stakeholders have a clear and comprehensive grasp of Loss and Damage, including how it relates to adaptation and mitigation, in order to identify the boundaries and scope for the fund. 

In recent weeks, news headlines have once again presented the catastrophic consequences of global failures to address the climate crisis. There is a moral imperative to act in solidarity with those who are suffering now, and to develop an approach that will protect the generations to come. 

For more information, read the Alliance’s latest report: ‘Falling through the gaps: how global failures to address the climate crisis are leading to increased losses and damages’.

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