“Loss and Damage” is a question of justice, not just generosity and solidarity.
On the Carteret Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the climate crisis started with the disappearance of coconuts. As sea levels continue to rise year after year, waves increasingly erode sandy beaches and uproot palm trees on the atoll – the islanders lose one of their main foods. Famine spread, so they had to flee their villages to the main island of Papua New Guinea. Caritas Papua New Guinea has helped 3,000 people affected by the flight over several years. This is necessary because state and international aid has proven insufficient in many places. The land was donated to the refugees by the Catholic Church and Caritas, among others, as part of the resettlement.
Their fate and that of other victims of the climate crisis will be discussed at COP28 from November 30 to December 12 under the title “Loss and Damage”. Assistance for those affected by extreme weather is no longer just a matter of solidarity and generosity. This is a question of justice, more precisely: climate justice. This includes the rights of people affected by the climate crisis to disaster prevention, early warning, damage limitation and adaptation to changing climate conditions. Southern countries have long called for funding mechanisms for “damage and loss” in international climate negotiations. Communities that suffer greatly from extreme weather events in countries such as Somalia, Pakistan and Haiti are not contributing to the climate crisis. The countries most affected account for only 0.13 percent of global CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, the impact of the climate crisis has rarely been felt by the countries that contribute to the largest greenhouse effect, including Germany.
Therefore, there will be a lot of money in Dubai to compensate for this injustice. The much-discussed question is: Who will fill the green climate fund and the yet-to-be-established “loss and damage” fund? This is an important decision, but from Caritas’ perspective, discussions cannot stop at money alone. Also important to the effectiveness of these funds is how the granting criteria are designed: Will local communities and grassroots civil society organizations have a say in how the funds are used? In our experience, local solutions and decision-making processes offer the best assurance that aid will go to the places where the climate crisis is causing the greatest damage and the need is greatest. The trend is: the more local, the better, the closer to the community.
This also applies to adaptation to the climate crisis. Currently, about two-thirds of public climate finance funds are used to support renewable energy, the expansion of which is highly profitable because appropriate returns can be achieved. However, only a portion of these funds is channeled to real climate adaptation, which directly serves to protect society from climate disasters. In our opinion, this is clearly not enough.
For example, the funds are not enough for the residents of the island of Papua New Guinea, who have not yet benefited from the funds. But it’s not just them who need more support; after all, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than three billion people live in regions that are suffering greatly from the climate crisis. That’s almost half of humanity. And they mainly live in countries, coastal areas, and island groups in the Global South.
In the long term, this creates humanitarian needs that cannot be met by aid organizations or countries unless there is a massive reallocation of funds. In the last ten years, the global need for humanitarian assistance has doubled and now amounts to around 39 billion US dollars per year. Only $20 billion of needs can be met by financial commitments.
Aid organizations are increasingly faced with the dilemma that they can no longer help people in need. Caritas International already has to help one million people every year who are particularly affected by the climate crisis. If greenhouse gases continue to be released into the air as before, victims of heat, drought or hurricanes will inevitably no longer be able to obtain food. Anyone who wants to prevent this must demand an end to fossil energy production. Caritas does that.
However, these global political demands must be accompanied by very concrete steps at the local and regional levels. Year after year, we as Caritas increase our efforts in disaster prevention and climate adaptation at village and city levels in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Its success can be measured in real terms. In 1999, an (unnamed) typhoon in Southeast Asia claimed more than 10,000 lives. When cyclone “Fani” moved at the same speed over the same region of India twenty years later, there were only 33 cyclones. The success of the efforts undertaken by Caritas and many other government and civil society actors, from more effective early warning to risk analysis at the village level to hurricane-proof cyclone protection structures is sufficient.
Oliver Muller is the head of Caritas International.
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