Empty ‘dialogues’ won’t solve the great climate injustice of loss and damage  

Lyndsay Walsh Climate Change, Events, Influencing

After over 30 years of calls to help pay for the cost of climate impacts in poorer countries, the news this week that it may be on the COP27 agenda gives us a ray of hope. Now we need to seize the chance for real action, says Lyndsay Walsh

Oxfam campaigners in costume at the G7 summit in Germany, posing as G7 leaders in traditional Bavarian outfits, roasting the Earth over a fire (Picture: Mike Auerbach/Oxfam)

The G7 summit this week is just the latest missed opportunity by global leaders to act decisively on the climate crisis. In the same year that the UN Secretary General warned that humanity is facing ‘code red’, the G7 actually weakened their commitment to stop public money subsidising fossil fuels. As leaders repeatedly fail to act to limit dangerous climate change, the need to pay for the loss and damage caused by it only grows.

A catalogue of inaction 

“Loss and damage” (L&D) is the term used for climate impacts which cannot be or have not been mitigated or adapted to. (Read a fuller explanation of loss and damage here.)

Coming out of COP26 in Glasgow, those demanding finance for loss and damage were incredibly disappointed at what was, or more importantly wasn’t, in the final decision text. Despite the largest negotiating group, representing six out of every seven people on earth, putting forward a proposal for a loss and damage finance facility, no such facility was agreed.

In fact, it was never even officially negotiated. Because, though this may seem hard to believe, finance for loss and damage is not yet a permanent agenda item at COPs.

More ‘blah blah blah’?

Instead, the ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ was put forward – a three-year dialogue with no mandated outcome, which many fear could simply end up as a talking shop. Agreeing to these dialogues was a major compromise by developing countries – and they did so in the good faith that it would result in substantive discussions towards a finance facility. The Alliance of Small Island States was clear that it only agreed to the dialogue on the condition that it will lead to a loss and damage finance facility” at COP27.

‘The Alliance of Small Island States was clear that it only agreed to dialogue“ on the condition that it will lead to a loss and damage finance facility” at COP27’

Wealthy countries, such as the EU and US, say more time is needed to discuss loss and damage. But the truth is that they been discussing this for years. In fact, there was another discussion space for loss and damage funding called the Suva Dialogue just three years ago! Further delay will cost lives, livelihoods, and development gains. 

Actions speak louder than words

It is becoming very clear that the sentiments of rich industrialised countries are not being matched with real action.

Global cooperation on climate change includes agreement to support developing countries to reduce their emissions (e.g. by connecting homes to renewable energy), and adapt to a changing climate (e.g. by making homes flood-resistant). Yet if these same homes are destroyed by a climate-related disaster, developed countries have no financial commitments or clear obligations to help pay for the damage.

‘If homes are destroyed by a climate-related disaster, developed countries have no clear obligations to help pay for the damage’

Rich countries have wilfully ignored what developing nations are calling for: finance to address loss and damage already caused – distinct from finance to avoid it in the future. That issue of addressing loss and damage is what needs to move to the top of the climate agenda.

We know the cost of loss and damage in low- and middle-income countries is already huge and will rocket as global heating continues: one calculation puts the cost at between 290 and 580 billion dollars per year by 2030 in developing countries alone.

The gaps in addressing loss and damage

Oxfam’s recent report ‘Footing the bill’, showed how the humanitarian system is seriously overstretched: we estimated that the amount of money needed for UN humanitarian appeals involving extreme weather events like floods or drought is now eight times higher than 20 years ago, and along with that the funding shortfalls have also ballooned. Since 2017, for every $2 needed for UN weather-related appeals, donor countries have only provided $1.

But fully funding UN appeals, though a necessary step, will not be enough to address loss and damage: over the last two decades these may have only covered around 7.5% of extreme-weather related disasters in low- and middle-income countries. The aim of the humanitarian system is to provide life-saving assistance in the short-term, where it is beyond the capacity of states to respond. Loss and damage needs go far beyond the immediate response and include rebuilding infrastructure, safely relocating displaced people, providing alternative livelihoods, providing social protection and active remembrance of loss.

A lifeline at COP27?

This week, Patricia Espinosa (Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, the UN climate change body) confirmed that a proposed agenda item by the G77 and China (the largest negotiating group) on “matters relating to funding arrangements for addressing loss and damage” would be added to the provisional agenda for COP27.

This could provide much-needed space to negotiate a COP27 outcome on finance for loss and damage. 

The only risk to this would be if developed countries block adding it to the agenda at the opening of the COP in November. (UPDATE, 7 November: it has now been confirmed that “Matters relating to funding arrangements responding to #LossAndDamage” will be a sub-agenda item, under finance, at COP27. More details here)

Looking ahead to Egypt

As the gavel comes down to open COP27, developing countries must hold firm in the demand for loss and damage finance – and developed countries must remember that further delay risks lives.

The urgency of the matter was highlighted by environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti, who recently travelled to the Wajir region of Kenya to visit communities facing a devastating drought that is being worsened by climate change. What Elizabeth witnessed inspired her to write a letter to the COP26 and COP27 Presidents, asking them to deliver loss and damage finance to help the people on the frontlines of the climate crisis:

“This is not just about money – because money can never replace what the people I met in Wajir have already lost. This is about justice. It is about building trust and solidarity.”

“This is not just about money – because money can never replace what the people I met in Wajir have already lost. This is about justice”

Environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti

Fighting for loss and damage finance can feel like pushing against a closed door, but with the real prospect of there being space to officially negotiate an outcome at COP27, cracks of light are beginning to appear.


Lyndsay Walsh

Lyndsay Walsh is a climate policy adviser at Oxfam GB

Take action: You can sign on in solidarity with Elizabeth Wathuti’s call for finance for loss and damage here: https://actions.oxfam.org/great-britain/climate-justice-solidarity/petition/

Want to know more? Read the full Oxfam report on loss and damage, ‘Footing the bill’ and read Lyndsay’s blog explainer: “What is loss and damage and why is it so vital for climate justice?”