Having inherited the world in the midst of a climate crisis which is only set to worsen, young people attending the COP27 climate summit in Egypt are calling for loss and damage compensation to cope with the irreversible impacts of climate change.
Several youth organisations came together to carry out protests at the COP27 conference, demanding that countries commit to establishing a finance facility that would provide new, additional and accessible funding to address and limit the irreversible impacts of climate change—particularly on young people. Among other demands, the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, YOUNGO (the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC) and the UK Youth Climate Coalition, also called for a youth advisory committee on loss and damage to be established, so that young people can be better included in the decision-making process.
Hyacinthe Niyitegeka, a co-founder of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, said that while she is glad that loss and damage has officially been added to the COP agenda this year, this is only the beginning of a long battle to get countries who are largely responsible for the climate crisis to pay up and compensate developing countries which are hit hardest by its impact. So far, we have seen growing momentum with pledges from countries such as Austria, New Zealand and Denmark to finance loss and damage. The Loss and Damage Youth Coalition was founded in 2020 to bring together young people from developing countries in the Global South to raise awareness of the scale and extent of damages that have been escalating as a result of the climate crisis. »There are many people out there who are not aware of these losses and damages, including youth. So with this initiative, we want to be able to fight for ourselves, fight for our future, and at the same time raise the profile of youth voices on the global stage to pressure world leaders to fulfil their promises,” said Niyitegeka, who is also a water scientist.
Xuan Zihan, a Singaporean youth representative who is part of YOUNGO, said: »Young people are not merely victims who are disproportionately affected by worsening climate impacts, but are also active agents of change and incubators of innovative ideas and solutions.« Having youth more involved in negotiations could also pave the way for higher climate ambition and intergenerational equity, he added.
Over in the Philippines, climate activist Mitzi Jonnelle Tan wants young people to have a stake in loss and damage negotiations, due to the sheer scale of climate debt that poorer countries would have to potentially pay off. »A lot of loss and damage finance that has been given to developing countries is in the form of loans, and not grants, which will mean that many countries will go into debt to these countries in the Global North. It is not just the older generation who will be paying off this debt, but today’s younger generation and the generations to come,« said Tan, who is with the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines. Extreme weather events arising from climate change are now increasing in intensity and frequency, with a severe tropical storm—Typhoon Noru—making a landfall in the Philippines last month, affecting close to three million people and causing billions of pesos in loss and damages to infrastructure and agriculture.
In Pakistan, severe flooding has claimed more than 7,000 lives, and caused almost 40 billion US dollars in damages, said Pervez Ali, the country coordinator for youth climate advocacy group Fridays for Future (Pakistan). »So it’s a big catastrophe and I think as youth representatives from Pakistan, we should be emphasising young people’s involvement in policymaking because it’s our future,« he added. But while the economic fallout from climate change—such as the loss of infrastructure, homes and agricultural land—is significant, young people are also worried about the non-economic or intangible losses of climate change—such as its impacts on their physical and mental health, which can be difficult to quantify.
Intense flooding events and cyclones, in Fiji and Pakistan, for example, have been traumatic for young people. Lavetanalagi Seru, the Regional Policy Coordinator for the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, said that young people who had to live through the category 5 typhoon that hit the Fijian island of Gau in 2016, are still afraid to play in the rain and cry at the sound of thunder to this day. »We don’t have adequate facilities and the necessary resources to deal with mental health problems on this scale. To be able to address this, we would need funding, and it would have to come from a loss and damage finance facility,« he added.
Similarly, in Pakistan, Pervez Ali hopes for more attention to be paid and more loss and damage funding to be allocated to climate education, which would help young people to better understand and cope with the impacts of climate change. This is especially important at a time when massive floods have destroyed schools and homes and upended the lives of many, displacing people to other parts of the country, he told us.
Dr Sandeep Chamling Rai, a senior advisor from WWF International’s Global Policy Adaptation, said that the loss and damage finance facility is likely to largely focus on loss and damage that can be measured in monetary terms. Resources from the fund could potentially be used for mitigating non-economic losses, such as by creating new conservation areas to minimise biodiversity loss or to offer support to help relocate people from one place to another.
Joy Reyes, a human rights and climate justice lawyer with the Manila Observatory, said: »I hope that the finance facility really focuses on assisting those that are historically at the margins—especially indigenous people, who are both on the frontline of the climate crisis and its last line of defence.«
Cheryl Tan, Singapore
Cheryl is a science, environment, and health journalist based in Singapore. She is focusing on the energy crisis and Singapore’s transition to net zero, as well as the adaptation measures that the nation is taking in the face of climate change, such as sea level rise and rising temperatures. She initially started out as a health reporter focusing on Singapore’s Covid-19 crisis, then developed an interest in the intersection between climate and health.