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Climate loss, damage escalating

By Kalina Tsang | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-11 09:16
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From the heat wave in India and Pakistan to the hunger crisis in East Africa, the signs that we are in the middle of a climate emergency are becoming more and more obvious with each passing day. And the damage caused by increasingly frequent disasters is taking a toll on the poorest-those least responsible for climate change.

With the ongoing Bonn Climate Change Conference, which began on Monday and will continue till June 16, world leaders must take bold steps to bring about climate justice. More specifically, they must agree to equitably and sufficiently address the loss and damage countries are experiencing as a result of climate change.

Climate impacts and associated losses and damage are escalating. Flooding in Europe in 2021, for instance, not only claimed the lives of more than 200 people, but also resulted in losses of over $45 billion. In Asia, Super-Typhoon Rai (locally known as Odette) in the Philippines caused more than half a billion dollars in damage. With the increasing frequency of sudden and slow-onset events, the costs of climate impacts will only increase. Estimates of the costs of losses and damage in 2030 are between $290 billion and $580 billion in developing countries alone.

Despite the growing costs, funding remains woefully inadequate. Oxfam's latest research shows that funding requirements for United Nations humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather are eight times higher today than 20 years ago. Worryingly, our estimates also show that over the past five years, appeals involving extreme weather events were only 54 percent funded on average-leading to a shortfall of between $28 billion and $33 billion.

It is rich countries and corporations that are most responsible for carbon emissions and climate change, yet they fail to pay for the harm they have caused and are still causing. Rich countries have contributed roughly 92 percent of the excess historical emissions, and are responsible for 37 percent of current emissions.

On the other hand, the world's poorest countries and communities which are hardest hit by climate change are paying the price for a climate crisis they are least responsible for. Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan, for instance, are together responsible for a mere 0.1 percent of the global emissions, yet people in those countries are facing severe levels of hunger in the midst of flooding and a two-year drought.

Clearly, current arrangements to make up for the losses and damage are not enough. Not only is there a severe lack of funding, the distribution of finance is also often guided by the preferences and geopolitical concerns of donor governments, and levels of concern within their borders. To effectively address the losses and damage, we need a new finance facility to govern action.

This requires an elevated central coordinating institution that would ensure the provision of finance is adequate, effective, fair, and guided by principles of climate justice. It would not only house a new fund dedicated to make up for the losses and damage, but, inter alia, also govern the disbursement of finance in a way that is equitable and based on the actual needs of recipient countries.

A new finance facility alone, however, is not enough. It is crucial that there are also new and innovative sources of finance. These must be equitable and ensure that the highest burden is placed on those most responsible and most able to pay. This could, for example, take the form of a levy on international shipping emissions and frequent flyers.

Hundreds of billions of dollars could be generated annually for victims of climate change through a tax on fossil fuel extraction. It could look something like the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, which receives contributions from international oil tanker companies and compensates coastal communities affected by oil spills.

Climate change is a reality we cannot deny. Even if countries take ambitious actions to cut emissions, the consequences of climate change are no longer avoidable. The costs of climate impacts will therefore only continue to skyrocket. The failure to act now, whether in terms of reducing emissions or addressing losses and damage, would spell even greater disaster for the world, especially the poorest people.

In short, rich countries must take responsibility for the climate damage they have wreaked, and are still wreaking. The world cannot afford to have these countries continue to ignore the harm they are causing to communities facing the worst impacts of climate change.

The author is director-general at Oxfam Hong Kong.

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