Loss, damage fund: Master stroke for Africa?
For some, it is a ‘breakthrough’ for climate justice, but others say the deal on loss and damage is still cloudy, as the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
This was how the world reacted to the agreement that countries reached to set up a fund to address the consequences of climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to.
The deal was struck at the 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last year.
It was the thorniest issue at the ‘African COP’, as negotiators from least developed countries (LDCs) demanded of the developed countries to “pay for their crimes against nature” while the latter kept holding on to every available straw to escape.
When the stalemate was eventually broken at the eleventh hour, with the countries agreeing to establish a fund for loss and damage, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, reacted, “this outcome moves us forward.
“We have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change,” he added.
The Head of Programmes and Research at Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), Charles Mwangi, also said the establishment of financial arrangement for loss and damage was “an important point of progress or at least, the beginning of a response to one of Africa’s key demands.”
However, the text of the agreement, which indicates that the fund was meant to assist developing countries that are “particularly vulnerable” to the effects of the climate crisis, remains a problem area.
Some experts say the framing of the potential beneficiaries by wealthier countries was problematic as it sought to limit the pool of recipients.
Others also pointed out that in its current form, the deal had no definite terms and conditions, except a roadmap that allowed for future decisions.
As it stands, the recommendations are expected to be made at COP28 on who will oversee the fund; how the money will be disbursed and who is to benefit.
Another area of uncertainty is that in terms of the sources of funds, the agreement identified a variety of existing revenue streams, including financial institutions, without turning to rich countries to contribute to the kitty.
The mill on sources of funds is still grinding, with the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calling for a windfall profit tax on fossil fuel companies to raise funding.
These discussions around loss and damage fund is rife at a time the African continent is reeling under the climate crisis.
According to Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) – Africa, the African continent accounts for the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions, at just 3.8 per cent, compared with China’s 23 per cent; US’s 19 per cent; and the European Union’s (EU’s) 13 per cent.
Yet, Africa is the hardest hit in terms of climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts, displacements, food and water insecurity.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says global temperatures are increasingly warming, with Africa experiencing an average rate of 0.3 °C per decade between 1991 and 2021, faster than the warming from 1961-1990, at 0.2°C.
The African coastlines are also witnessing sea level rise at a higher rate than the global mean rate, with an estimated 116 million people on the continent expected to be exposed to sea level rise risk.
Additionally, droughts have claimed over half a million lives on the continent in the past 50 years, with over US$70 billion recorded losses in the region.
This is apart from the more than 1,000 flood-related disasters that were reported over the period, involving more than 20,000 deaths.
Again, it is estimated that by 2050, climate impacts could cost African nations US$50 billion annually.
Put house in order
While it remains unclear as to when the loss and damage fund will be operationalised, a Ghanaian scientist has called on Ghana and other countries in Africa to put their house in order by putting in place robust systems to collect scientific data on losses and damages associated with the climate crisis.
"I am happy that those who are causing greenhouse emissions that lead to climate change have agreed that the fund should be created to at least repair the loss and damage that we the less emitters are encountering," Professor Kwasi Appeaning-Addo, the Director of the Institute of Environmental and Sanitation Studies (IESS) at the University of Ghana, said.
However, he stressed that the only way Ghana could benefit from the loss and damage fund, if it materialised, was for the government to put in place robust systems that would help to measure the negative impact of climate change on vulnerable communities.
"To me, loss and damage is a good thing, but as a country, we have to put our house in order; put in place the required monitoring systems, and be ready for it," he stressed.
Again, he said while waiting on developed countries to provide funds for loss and damage, it was important for African countries to answer critical questions – do we know the extent of the loss? Do we know the extent of the damage? Do we have data to quantify our loss or damage? Do we know the environmental loss?
A research scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Emmanuel Obuobie, also said while the loss and damage fund agreement was a major milestone in climate financing, it would take some time for it to be fully operationalised.
He called on African countries to remain united and present a common voice at all levels of negotiations towards finalising and operationalising the fund.
Dr Obuobie added that African countries, including Ghana, must prioritise the specific loss and damage to cover from the fund, as there may not be sufficient financing to cover every loss and damage, especially with the current global economic challenges.
“This also means that African countries should not look at the new fund as the only way to finance climate–related loss and damage, but should pursue other financing options, including financing loss and damage by the respective governments and the private sector,” he said.
For his part, the Legal Advisor of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN), Prof. Seth Osafo, said African leaders need to up their game to make a stronger case for the continent in terms of demanding climate action from the Western world.
“Climate impacts are real and our urgency as a people to deal with this crisis must supersede the quest for finances that rightfully come with it.
Our leaders could then demand climate finance, rather than beg for it.
They could take the lead on the global stage, instead of trailing behind, begging as helpless victims while accepting new fossil fuel investments that might soon become stranded assets,” he stressed.
Even as the loss and damage discourse continues, Ghana must take steps to tackle eminent triggers of climate change in the country.
Currently, illegal mining activities, popularly known as galamsey, continue to destroy the country's land and water resources, leaving the residents of mining communities to count their losses.
Large tracts of agricultural land have been devastated by the illegal miners who use excavators and other machines to wipe off the green vegetation and leave behind gaping pits in the desperate search for gold.
Forest reserves in mining communities in the Ashanti, Eastern, Central, Western, Western-North, Ahafo, Bono and other areas have been wiped off by these illegal miners.
Wetlands and Ramsar sites host mangroves that are crucial in mitigating the impact of climate change and coastal flooding.
According to ecologists, apart from helping to regulate climate, the carbon storage potential of mangroves is about five times higher than the tropical upland forest due to strong carbon storage in the soil.
Again, they explained that mangroves that grow well within wetlands help to fight against climate change by storing a higher amount of carbon than rainforest.
Despite the crucial role wetlands and ramsar sites play in tackling the climate crisis, Ghana’s five coastal wetlands designated as Ramsar sites are under siege.
The wetlands, which constitute about 10 per cent of the country’s total land area of 23.9 million hectares, are suffocating from over exploitation of the resource, dormant conservation laws and encroachment activities by humans.
Major cities of Ghana are replete with rickety vehicles that emit greenhouse gases from their exhaust into the atmosphere.
The lack of a legislation for testing vehicular emissions makes the situation worst.
Call to action
For Ghana, the government needs to step up efforts to fight illegal mining to protect the environment from further destruction.
Also, more attention must be given to the Green Ghana project that was introduced in 2021 to help restore the country’s degraded landscape.
Records at the Forestry Commission show that seven million of the trees were planted on the maiden Green Ghana Day on June 11, 2021 while the 2022 event saw the planting of 24 million trees of various species.
These trees were planted mainly in degraded forest reserves that have been reclaimed and other off-reserve areas.
While the trees are planted, efforts must be made to nurture the trees so that they survive.
Adequate measures must also be made to prevent the loss of these trees through wild fires.
As countries work towards keeping emissions below the 1.5°C target under the Paris Agreement, it is important for measures to be taken to control vehicular emissions.
The ban on indiscriminate sand winning along Ghana’s coastline must be enforced to prevent coastal erosion which give rise to flooding in coastal communities.
It is also important for flood-mitigating measures to be rolled out to curb perennial flooding in many parts of the country.