Adaptation, Loss and damage Day at COP26

Dry cracked dirt
November 09, 2021

Photo credit: Julia Volk from Pexels

Adaptation, Loss and Damage Day at COP26

November 8th was Adaptation, Loss and Damage Day at COP26. 

First, some background: John Holdren, Senior Advisor on science in the Obama administration said with climate change, we have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering.  Since we have been slow to mitigate and only just begun to implement adaptation measures, there has been, and will continue to be considerable suffering due to climate change At the COPs, the subject of Loss and Damage, a euphemism for suffering, has been downplayed – until recently. The Santiago Network—which aims to “catalyze [expert] technical assistance … for averting, minimizing and addressing Loss and Damage”—was established during COP25 and is on the agenda at COP26. A full description of the parties and commitments are in the press release made by CO26 resident Alok Sharma and others.

There has been much said about the $100 USD billion in annual support that developed nations promised to developing nations. Still, only 80% of that already inadequate amount has been delivered and most of it as loans (not grants). It was offered because the developed nations did not do enough to reduce their GHG emissions and as one speaker summarized, was offered in exchange for support of the Paris Agreement. Developing nations have been calling for 50% of this money to be earmarked for adaptation, up from the current 20% or so. It was good news, then, when Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister, Steven Guilbeault announced today that Canada is offering to reach a minimum of 40%.

So why is the 50% adaptation target so hard to reach? Simply put: mitigation is easier to measure and something the private sector is happy to pursue. Adaptation is more difficult, but can be quantified if it is well defined. Loss and Damage is a different story. It is difficult to determine how much L&D is from only climate change as attribution climate science is still in its infancy, and isn’t assured to be accepted.

As a Christian, I see climate change as a major justice issue. This was echoed throughout the day by speaker after speaker – from both the developing and developed nations. Those who cause the least of the climate change suffer most of the consequences and are least able to cope. Those who cause the most are not paying their fair share – not by a long shot as the speakers from both developed and developing nations acknowledged. Clearly, the developing nations can only ask; they have little leverage. One thing they have done is organize themselves into the G77+China; the Least Developed Countries, the African Nations, the Small Island Developing States, and more, and they spoke up during COP26.

They have had some success in that there is more talk and some offers to increase the share of funds that can go to adaptation which we heard today – Scotland, Japan, Sweden, US, Germany and Canada among them (see the press release referenced above). The share in grants is increasing too. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration), and  recently for the first time, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) recognized that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. Still, will the injustice be corrected anytime soon? What can we Christians do?

I think it will take much prayer. Lobbying too, especially by us Christians from the developed nations is essential. After all, we are complicit and indeed are enjoying the benefits of fossil fuel over consumption that makes life so comfortable and safe for us. Why lobby? Justice demands payment And what kind of pay-out would be considered just? One well accepted principle is the Polluter Pays Principle. Estimates named during the Leaders’ Summit that launched COP26, and again today were in the order of up to $1.3 trillion annually. Canada’s share of cumulative GHG emissions is around  1.6% depending on the reference. Our corresponding share of global climate finance then, would be over $25 billion annually. By comparison, Canada has recently upped its contribution to the global $100 billion pledge to $5.3 billion over 5 years. This 20:1 gap is one reason for Loss and Damage to be downplayed. The challenge to quantify is another.  But the extent of the challenge should not deter us according to former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, encouraged action today in his speech, “This is going to be really hard. The thing we have going for us is that humanity has done hard things before. I believe we can do hard things again”. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said it more starkly: “1.5 is what we need to survive. 2 degrees…is a death sentence…”

Nelson Lee, a member of the Mennonite Church of BC Climate Change Task Group and of Earthkeepers, is a member of the joint United Church of Canada and For the Love of Creation virtual delegation to COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

You can follow the delegation #UCCanCOP26 and #FLCCOP26 and check back here for personal reflections from the delegates in the coming days.