Loss and Damage: Activists decry lack of progress as climate disasters rise in Africa

Charles Mwangi, the head of programmes and research, PACJA answers questions by Malawian Press in Lilongwe during the African regional conference on loss and damage

Lilongwe, Malawi:  From the south to the horn of Africa, climate-related disasters are on the rise and have heightened the wariness among citizens about the halfhearted discussions around loss and damage within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) discourses.

At a meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, climate activists and experts under the auspices of Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) noted the lack of capacity of African governments to account for loss and damage, their inability to come up with data to coherently argue for compensation from loss and damage of property, and livelihoods such as was recently witnessed in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Activists decried the slow progress by national agencies tasked with aggregating data and undertaking studies that are relevant to the UNFCCC process..

Ahead of the Malawi conference, over 400 people died from ‘rain bomb’-caused floods in Durban, South Africa, leaving highways and property damaged. In the horn of Africa, thousands of families are affected by the ongoing severe drought that has left many without livelihoods.

“Africans must prioritise discussions on the compensation for loss and damage in all discussions within the UNFCCC processes”, said Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.

He added that the lack of interest in the UNFCCC discussion processes on loss and damage dampens hope for a quick rebound from climate-related disasters among residents of a continent described as the most at risk region of the world.

Conversations on financing adaptation and compensation for ‘Africa’s inability to industrialise or use fossil-fuel energy in the way firms and economies in other countries did are urgent, said Prof Patrick Bond, of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.

The situation obtains even as recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) show that Africa is a hotspot of vulnerability to the adverse impacts of human-induced climate change.

All reports on the vulnerability of Africa to climate change are consistent and show a worsening degree of the situation.

Most African countries are struggling to quantify loss and damage, a situation that Dayce Nkhoma, the Director of Risk Reduction in Malawi, attributes to a lack of resources and skills. “”Such a situation makes it hard to backup resource mobilisation for loss and damage”,” said Nkhoma.

Augustine Njamnshi, the Chair of PACJA’s political and technical affairs committee noted that although loss and damage discussions first cropped up in 1999 and concretised in 2015 in Paris,  which led to the Paris Agreement‘s Article 8, there is still a lack of mention on compensation for loss and damage.

“More than capacity building, technology transfer and generalised discussions on climate finance mean nothing without a mechanism to compensate for loss and damage,” he said.

And indeed, as noted by Prof. Satish, the capacity is not widespread and an appropriate bottom-up model of capacity building is necessary.

Prof Bond noted that the recent happening in Durban and as exemplified in other African countries, governments have no mechanism to pay for loss and damage.

“South African government for example promised to support victims of the recent floods but are yet to honour the promise,” he noted, adding that this could mean either the lack of resources or capacity to compensate for loss and damage,” he said.

Alpha Kaloga, of the African Group of Negotiators, noted that there is no single financial instrument to address loss and damage. A mix of approaches will need to be employed to address loss and damage, and the mix will vary by country context.

He said loss and damage are contextual noting that the African continent is exposed to diverse types of loss and damage, which manifest most significantly in diverse sectors and are associated with certain events (both extreme and slow events) over different time scales, i.e., at present as well as in the future that is anticipated in the medium and long-term.

Loss and damage associated with drought, floods, and sea-level rise have fundamental importance to Africa, whose communities, such as those in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa,  are trying to cope with losses for which they have limited capacity to respond.

Participants noted the weak private citizen civil litigation frameworks, which have not allowed private citizens to sue government entities for compensation for what most governments define as natural disasters.

In the recent past, African delegates to the UNFCCC have strived to retain Loss and Damage in annual UN summits. But the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) held in Warsaw, Poland, watered down the language that left Africans unamused.

As a way forward, African nations, led by the civil society pressure groups such as PACJA are beginning to seek an alternative to the debate on loss and damage.

It is great to see the  premise of a COP27 as a Climate Impact COP, a framing that centres on Adaptation and Loss and Damage agenda and is congruent with  the pan African mobilisation for advancing the implementation of special needs and circumstances consideration of the African continent in UNFCCC.

According to Julius Ngoma, the Coordinator of the Civil Society Network on Climate Change (CISONECC),  the loss and damage conference in Malawi provides Africa with opportunities for addressing these issues from the climate justice lens.


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