UN Meets on Effective Responses to Loss and Damage Ahead of COP28

The aftermath of the flood in the Libyan city of Derna. Credit: UNHCR/Ahmed Al Houdiri T

The aftermath of the flood in the Libyan city of Derna. Credit: UNHCR/Ahmed Al Houdiri T

By Joyce Chimbi
NAIROBI, Sep 22 2023 – African countries are increasingly in the eye of deadly climate-induced disasters. Recent devastating extreme events include intense shattering earthquakes in Morocco, followed shortly by catastrophic floods in Libya this September that left 11,300 people dead, according to Libya’s Red Crescent.

A quarter of Libya’s Port City of Derna – the epicentre of this tragedy – was wiped off the map. Planet warming pollution made the tragedy in Libya 50 times more likely to occur and 50 percent worse. 

“As global warming intensifies, the outlook worsens, losses and damages increase and become increasingly difficult to avoid, the projections are dire – regional disparities and food security are poised to affect tens to hundreds of millions of people in low- and middle-income countries, flood risk is anticipated to result in an additional 48,000 deaths of children by 2030,” said Dr Adelle Thomas, lead author on the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the sixth in a series of reports which assess scientific, technical, and socio-economic information concerning climate change.

“For small islands and coastal communities, both slow onset and extreme events threaten to render these places uninhabitable. In this context, we find that current financial and institutional structures are failing to comprehensively address losses and damages, particularly in vulnerable developing nations. More than 50 percent of the debt increase in vulnerable nations is linked to funding disaster recoveries and reconstruction. It is an unjust and unsustainable predicament with those least responsible for climate change are shouldering the burdens and costs of loss and damage.”

Speaking during a special UN meeting on loss and damage on September 20, 2023, Amina J Mohammed, the Vice Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that this is an issue that the Secretary General of the United Nations “always got fire under our feet for and to make sure we deliver as we go to COP28. The imperative to act urgently and collectively, we all know, cannot be overstated, and this special meeting is taking place on the margins of the secretary general’s Climate Ambition Summit.”

Stressing that the global community must come together, redouble its efforts in rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and significantly enhancing adaptation resilience in the face of these inevitable changes. It is also equally imperative that the global community address the irreversible impacts that have already been set in motion.

“Many nations, particularly those which are least responsible for the current climate crisis, find themselves at the frontline of its effects. To address the climate injustice, a historic decision was taken at COP27 to establish new funding arrangements, including a fund for loss and damage. It is possible to have a world that is secure, where no one is left behind. Keeping the promise of the 2030 agenda and also of the Paris Agreement,” Mohammed emphasised.

The special meeting on loss and damage supported efforts by the Transitional Committee in line with the mandate that was given to them by the parties of the Paris Agreement. Emphasizing that urgent action was needed as the least polluting countries were in the frontline of a deadly climate crisis.

“More than 110 million Africans are being directly affected by climate and water-related hazards in 2022, and that caused more than 8.5 billion dollars in economic damages. Our global projected economic cost of loss and damage are to be in the range of hundreds of billions by 2030,” Mohammed expounded.

At the same time, unsustainable debt burdens, spiralling inflation and currency fluctuations are adding to the difficulties and hardships that the most vulnerable countries face. Initiatives such as the SDGs Stimulus to Deliver Agenda 2030 are now in place to keep the 2030 promise by offsetting challenging market conditions faced by developing countries and accelerating progress towards the SDGs.

Genaro Matías Godoy González, a youth representative from YOUNGO – the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasised that climate inaction should pay a price and that “the call for loss and damage finance is inherently a call for both climate action and climate justice. It means the hope of reparations for the billions of people whose livelihoods are lost and the responsibility of decision-makers to fix the pathway of a monetary and financial system that helps our world to expand its growth but fails to account for planetary boundaries on how we should direct growth.”

González spoke of the need for transformative change – recognising the climate and ecological debt to the people and ecosystem. To rebuild and regenerate the lost livelihoods – international financial institutions have a moral imperative to be part of the transition and transformation of our global financial system.

“Central banks must include the risk of financial inaction in the risk assessments of its monetary policy, report accordingly, and the right incentives put in place. Climate financing for addressing loss and damage must not come at the expense of other forms of climate financing to support comprehensive climate action. It must be new and additional and aligned with SDGs, conservation of nature and climate resilience development. They should not create more debt burden for developing countries that are already trying to survive the climate crisis while being strangled by debt and being forced to extract nature,” he said.

To underpin the need for effective financial models for loss and damages, Thomas delivered a dire warning from the heart of the Sixth IPCC assessment report – “Human-induced climate change has inflicted widespread and severe losses and damages – disproportionately affecting developing countries and the most vulnerable among us. The numbers paint an alarming picture – about 3.3 billion people reside in highly vulnerable countries, exposing them to the most severe climate impacts. Human mortality from extreme events was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.”

“Millions of people are grappling with acute food insecurity, concentrated in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, least developed countries and small islands. Severe droughts have resulted in nearly six million children in the developing world becoming underweight. Extreme events are resulting in billions of dollars in damages – at times, exceeding the GDP of developing countries,” Thomas added.

Losses and damages have wrecked greater economic havoc and impoverished regions and among more vulnerable populations, including the poor, women, children and indigenous peoples. The scientific evidence is undeniable – urgent, comprehensive and transformative action is imperative to respond to the escalating levels of loss and damage.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Reality is Governments Not Truly Held Accountable to Implement SDGs

The SDG Summit gets underway in the General Assembly hall at UN Headquarters in New York. September 2023. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Sep 22 2023 – What does transformative and sweeping really mean in the overarching efforts to achieve the Agenda 2030?

With the conclusion of the second edition of the SDG Summit, it is time for stocktaking on what was agreed at the United Nations HQ in New York this week. At the core of the Summit were not the several Leaders’ Dialogues that, as important as it can be to have heads of state and government reflecting on the Agenda, are just talking shops without any practical implications.

Instead, what deserves more scrutiny is the Political Declaration that was issued during the Summit after months of negotiations facilitated by the governments of Ireland and Qatar. The document has been heralded as truly significant, a “transformative and sweeping” game-changer that will be able to reposition sustainable development at the center of the global deliberations.

But is it really so?

Certainly, the Declaration contains some bold language that truly makes an attempt at securing the international community’s steadfast leadership towards the Agenda 2030. Yet would this be enough to command not only the commitment of the world’s government to achieve it but also a through follow up and implementation in the months and years ahead?

As we know, the SDGs are far from being on track and each report being published, confirms it. The fact that the Declaration is comprehensive because it covers the whole spectrum of policy making that is covered by the 17 SDGs contained in the Agenda, is hardly enough.

After all, the expectations were high as the document was supposed to be an actionable and provide impetus for change.

Real leadership means and implies actions and after the conclusion of the Summit, no one can be optimistic that the governments will concretely step up. The reality, no matter how much the UN is trying to portray it in a such a way, those expecting doable, concrete and detailed advances, are now feeling disappointed and frustrated and rightly so.

It is true that the final text does offer a lot of attention has been given to the inter-linked challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet for these two global issues, any figures estimated to address them, disappeared from the final approved document.

Indeed, any references to the goal of delivering 100 billion US Dollar by 2025 (yearly, let’s not forget it, even if this detail did not make even in one of the initial draft circulated) did not find space in the approved Declaration. The same could be said for the $700 billion biodiversity fund included in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

A consolation could be found in having the proposal of an SDG Stimulus, one of the key proposals being pushed by the UN Secretary Geneal, being mentioned. Unfortunately, also in this case, the number of $ 500 billion annually proposed by Mr. Guterres did not make the final cut.

With the industrialized nations struggling to deliver on their promises in the field of climate action, having a paragraph, even though a brief one on the Stimulus, can be seen as a victory especially for Mr. Guterres. The Secretary General might feel mixed emotions about the final Political Declaration.

It is true that his ambitious idea of the Summit of the Future, scheduled in 2024, got included even though apparently without much enthusiasm from the international community. Yet, on the other hand, the concept of a New Social Contract, so central to the reform agenda of Mr. Guterres, was completely ignored.

This might be unsurprising considered the political implications (and consequences) of what can be described as a bold attempt at reviewing and renewing the relationships and dynamics between the state and its citizens.

After all, at the United Nations everything that sounds too political (and truly transformative) is going to be strongly pushed back by the member states, especially those which have their own “unique” understanding of democracy and human rights.

Positively and probably unexpected was the attention that the Declaration gave to the latter. Indeed, human rights found acceptance in the document not only once but multiple times and this is praiseworthy, albeit, only symbolically.

A disappointment is the fact that no space was given to the importance of civic engagement, itself an element instrumental to bring forward the idea of a New Social Contract. Yet, even without any linkages to this overtly progressive idea, civic engagement and with it, one of its greatest manifestations, volunteering, did not find any space in the document.

Apparently UNV was not particularly active in the drafting process nor throughout the jamboree of side events organized around the SDG Summit and this is quite alarming. Even more is the fact that the Declaration does not offer any transformative plans or promises to empower youths.

It is as if the Policy Brief published in April by the Office of the Secretary General, Meaningful Youth Engagement in Policymaking and Decision-Making Process was not at all digested by the member states involved in the drafting of the final document.

On this regard, the establishment of an UN Youth Office, another key part of the reform agenda of Mr. Guterres, while significant, it is not at all transformative if tools and mechanisms are not created to enable youths to participate.

The issue of localization of the SDGs, probably, the best approach to involve and mobilize citizens, especially the youths in the pursuit of the Agenda 2030, also did not find due prominence. Likewise, the whole process of the Voluntary National Reviews or VNRs was not highlighted the way it should have been.

It remains quite incomprehensible why the member states are not so keen to translate the SDGs at local level. “We will continue to integrate the SDGs into our national policy frameworks and develop national plans for transformative and accelerated action” reads the Declaration.

“We will make implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving the SDGs a central focus in national planning and oversight mechanisms”, the document further adds.

This acknowledgement is certainly welcomed but only a lot of political capital and commitment will be able to translate these lofty sentences in a truly revolution in the way policy making is currently carried out that is, far too remote and disconnected from the people.

Yet localizing the SDGs should have been seen as a true game changer and much more focus should have been devoted to. We should have gone well beyond the statement found in the Declaration, according to which, the Leaders says that “will further localize the SDGs and advance integrated planning and implementation at the local level.”

The Political Declaration is a positive document but, in no measure, a game changing one. The reality is that governments are not truly held accountable to implement their SDGs.

The VNRs mechanism is utterly inadequate and not only because it is voluntary but it is so also structurally speaking. Ultimately, there is no real watchdog with powers over the countries lacking their commitments in terms of delivering the SDGs nor the UN System has any real leverage to force the member states to submit their VNRs through a binding timeframe.

I wish the SDG Summit would resemble a COP Process like the annual one related to Climate Change with real pressure and real negotiations occurring. As per its current design, the leaders at the Summit just come to talk, preach, complain or condescending but there is no real high-level bargaining.

That’s why, for example, the wording on climate change, mentioned throughout the document, as significant as they are, do not touch the real debate of phasing down and phasing out fossil fuels.

In this context the fact that the Political Declaration did not mince a word on the ongoing but stalled negotiations on a legally binding mechanism or Treaty on Business and Human Rights, becomes, unfortunately, something superfluous and expendable.

The Writer is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE and The Good Leadership and is based in Kathmandu.

IPS UN Bureau


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