For Caribbean countries, the road to COP27 is one that many believe must lead to climate justice, particularly through the loss and damage agenda. Ultimately, for small island countries, loss and damage support is about as close as they can get to climate justice, at least from a diplomatic perspective. The road is sure to be challenging for the countries preparing to assemble in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, though recent public policy shifts in the EU and US have raised expectations.
In simple terms, loss and damage refers to the impacts of climate change that occur despite adaptation and mitigation efforts. Earlier this year, António Guterres stated quite plainly that a ‘failure to act on loss and damage will lead to more loss of trust and more climate damage’. Guterres further describes loss and damage as a ‘moral responsibility’ particularly of the rich countries within the G20, who account for about 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Regionally, it is no secret that Caribbean negotiators agree with Guterres and as such will be putting loss and damage funding at the top of their list of demands, particularly considering storm surges in recent years. Small Island Developing States collectively contribute less than 1 per cent of the world’s total GHG emissions and are now seeing annual storm surges of unprecedented magnitude.
According to an analysis by Oxfam, the economic cost of extreme weather events last year was estimated to be $329 billion globally. This was nearly twice the total aid given by rich nations to the developing world that year. Oxfam also estimates that the costs of loss and damage to low and middle-income countries alone would reach a minimum of $290 billion per year and could reach as high as $580 billion per year by the end of the decade. This estimate does not even factor in non-economic losses, such as the loss of life, cultures and our unique Caribbean way of life.
The Alliance of Small Island States which will be led by Antigua and Barbuda this year, recently argued that the ‘need for this multilateral fund is directly linked to, among other things, the inadequate global response on mitigation in relation to the Convention and the Paris Agreement goals’. Similarly, the newly appointed UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, who will be taking up his role this year, described the meeting as ‘the world’s first opportunity…to demonstrate progress’ since the Paris Agreement was signed. Ayesha Constable, founder of GirlsCARE Jamaica, argued that climate justice not only means addressing the impacts of climate change, but also ‘addressing the impacts of colonialism’ and ‘placing the responsibility for action on colonial shoulders’.‘We want climate actions that consider the needs of all countries and groups. We want finance that is not tied to the economic status of SIDS but to their climate vulnerability and we want technologies that are not developed and patented in Europe and available to SIDS only through high interest grants from development banks’, Ayesha shared. Within the Caribbean, civil society groups are on the same page as Ayesha and are now strongly focused on expanding conversations on climate justice, and calling for governments to put climate justice into practice. Ayesha and many other young leaders across the Caribbean want our leaders to not be ‘afraid to advocate for justice at the highest diplomatic level’.
Last year, Antigua and Barbuda joined Tuvalu to establish a Commission for Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law. The intention is to take claims for loss and damage to international courts. This week, the Republic of Vanuatu announced that it is also continuing with its plans to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to push states to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change. In many ways, this shift to another forum symbolises the frustration of these states and the lack of progress on loss and damage within the UN climate talks to date. At Sharm el Sheikh, I hope we can push for the finance so desperately needed and take one small step towards justice.
Dizzanne Billy is an environmental advocate and freelance writer from Trinidad and Tobago, who is leading Climate Tracker's expansion across the Caribbean and their group of fellows at COP27