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Where climate loss and damage means life and death

A farmer in Somalia attempts to cross a flooded river after the recent record rainfall. Photo: CARE International

A farmer in Somalia attempts to cross a flooded river after the recent record rainfall. Photo: CARE International

“Before the floods, I had a tea shop and I could manage to provide the basics for my family,” says Ciiro. “Now everything is lost.”

Ciiro is 60 years old. After having been forced from her home once by drought and then again by floods, she’s now living in the Tawakal settlement for displaced people outside Galkayo in Somalia.

“All our belongings were wiped away by the floods,” she says. “And we found ourselves displaced for the second time.

“We are now living in a makeshift shelter with no protection from the sun in the afternoon, cold at night, and we are exposed to thieves.”

Ciiro is 5,000 miles away from Dubai, where “loss and damage” is a phrase featured in position papers by the experts who have gathered for COP28, the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But “loss and damage” is life and death for people like Ciiro — in Somalia and in other vulnerable communities around the world.

They are all bearing the brunt of a crisis they are not responsible for.

An internally displaced woman moves her home items to another location at Indhoolayaasha Nimcole IDP camp after rains made the current location of her home inhospitable. Photo: Walter Mawere/CARE

What is “loss and damage”?

Industrialized nations like the U.S., China, and Russia have contributed the bulk of the historic greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, which is why the global community sees them as having a significant responsibility for the impacts of the crisis, including loss and damage.

For years, low and mid-income countries have advocated for these wealthier, industrialized countries to establish a fund to help pay for the damage caused by the changes wrought from decades of their greenhouse gas emissions.

But only last year, in Egypt, have governments at COP27 included “loss and damage finance” on the agenda for the first time.

After intense negotiations and advocacy, world leaders took the groundbreaking step by establishing new funding arrangements, including the Loss and Damage Fund (L&DF), aimed at assisting vulnerable, developing nations in dealing with the severe impacts of climate change.

One of the primary goals of this fund is to ensure that financial resources are available to assist communities and nations facing the greatest risks, like Somalia – a country responsible for less than 1% of the global emissions that cause climate change –in coping with the consequences of the crisis they did not cause.

Floods and drought are, of course, just a few of the consequences that experts say are only going to get worse. Not only was 2023 the hottest year on record, but a recent study showed how the already-baked-in effects of climate change are likely to be here for 50,000 years.

In the short term, a recent report from The Lancet showed how climate-fueled extreme heat has killed 11% more people in Africa over the past five years than normal, and is contributing to growing food insecurity as well as disease outbreaks around the world.

What you can do to help right now

The previous five-year long drought had displaced thousands of families from their homes. Now, many of these same communities are being displaced again by floods. Photo: Walter Mawere/CARE

Despite this grim outlook, there are things to be done right now.

The IPCC has laid out a roadmap to rolling back the effects of climate change, and a major part is demanding wealthy countries meet their commitments on climate finance and stop perpetuating an injustice that must be rectified.

The recent COP28 agreement on the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund offers a glimmer of hope, but also reveals shortcomings, since, while the COP28 conversations continue, the loss and damage does, too.

“Nearly two million Somalis have been affected by once-in-a-century floods after five failed rainy seasons,” Walter Mawere, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for CARE Somalia says. “These communities have contributed the least to climate change, and yet they are now facing hunger and a lack of drinking water, with 1 million people forced to leave their homes.”

As world leaders prepare to leave Dubai in the coming days, the message from climate advocates is clear: the Loss and Damage Fund must not remain an empty promise.

CARE and other organizations are calling on the governments most responsible for the climate emergency to do more than just, as Greta Thunberg said in Egpypt, “Blah blah blah.”

Funding loss and damage is only a start.

“Financial commitments must not be about robbing Peter to pay Paul: funding must be new and additional,” says Fanny Petitbon, Head of Advocacy for CARE France. “COP28 must also design a clear pathway to establish innovative sources of finance based on a polluters-pay principle, such as a tax on the fossil fuel industry, a frequent flyer levy, a tax on international shipping fuel, a global wealth tax or a financial transaction tax.”

Petitbon also points out that loss and damage will only get worse if world leaders don’t address the root causes of climate change.

“COP28 must deliver an unwavering commitment to a fast, full, fair, and funded fossil fuel phase-out,” Petitbon says. “This is paramount to prevent future loss and damage, which sits at the heart of our collective responsibility to safeguard our planet for future generations.”

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