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Loss and damage at COP25: a look outside the negotiating rooms

An SEI Research Associate attended COP25 but found that the most powerful debate on climate justice was happening outside the official negotiations.

Zoha Shawoo / Published on 20 December 2019

Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Stringer / Getty Images

As a woman from the Global South, I have always been passionate about climate justice issues. I remember writing in my personal statement for my university application that I wanted to be a climate negotiator so that I could advocate for the voices and priorities of those living in developing countries to be included and represented in climate negotiations.

So, when I finally got the chance to attend COP25 in Madrid this year, what I was most excited about was finally getting inside the negotiating rooms and seeing how it all happens. But what I found was that the most important voices on climate justice were those outside of these rooms. The absolute highlight for me was getting to hear the voices of powerful women from the Global South, Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized communities who, despite being the most vulnerable to climate impacts while having contributed least to the problem, are still at the forefront of driving and demanding action against it.

Loss and damage – essential for climate justice

This was particularly evident when it came to the topic of loss and damage, which has been a sticking point in the negotiations this year, with several country delegates highlighting that financing for loss and damage will either “make or break” the COP. Tensions were clear in the negotiating rooms, with several developing countries, particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDs) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), calling for new and additional finance to compensate them for the climate impacts they face.

Yet some delegations were steering discussions in the negotiating rooms away from any form of financing for loss and damage. According to the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, Australia and the US continued to “block and undermine the needs of developing countries” and did not respond to the specific proposals for a new loss and damage fund. Focus was instead placed on creating a task force or expert group to concentrate on knowledge sharing and dialogue on loss, damage and risk assessment, rather than providing much-needed funding and compensation.

But outside the negotiations, clear and strong voices emerged from people working on the ground communicating that addressing loss and damage is essential for climate justice and is necessarily a human rights issue. Financing in the form of reparations and compensation is needed not only to correct a historic injustice, but also to build resilience and protect the livelihoods of vulnerable communities. For this to be effective, this needs to be done hand-in-hand with these communities.

Demonstration by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice highlighting the need to establish a new loss and damage fund.

(Photo: Zoha Shawoo, SEI)

Frontline defenders, not passive victims

I attended several side events on the role of Indigenous women as “frontline defenders” in the fight against climate change, as well as on the role of women from the Global South in climate justice. And the messages from these events were clear: there is a need to change the narrative around vulnerable communities as passive victims of climate change that need to be saved. And there is a need to frame “capacity building” in a way that is much less patronizing. There are gaps in information and unimaginable barriers that these women face through patriarchal structures, topped with deep-rooted histories of colonialism, exploitation and racism leading to further marginalization.

But despite this, women in the Global South, Indigenous women and other vulnerable groups are already making a difference. They already know what solutions will work for them in their contexts. What they need is the finance to be able to operationalize their capacity, build their resilience and apply these solutions. This finance, however, is still lacking. A representative from ActionAid indicated that funds are being funneled into market-based solutions that aren’t working on the ground rather than being allocated towards addressing loss and damage where they could be more effective.

Finance needs to shift away from “false solutions”

And this brings up another sticking point in this year’s COP: Article 6, and its accompanied negotiations on carbon markets. Outside the negotiating rooms, these technocratic responses to climate change are being framed as “false solutions”, designed to protect the very systems that created the climate crisis to begin with. Much of the available capital is going into big infrastructure projects that don’t directly address the climate emergency while billions of dollars go into fossil fuel subsidies every year.

According to the Women and Gender constituency, there is a need to “break away from the systems that caused the climate crisis and not look for solutions within those systems”. Finance needs to be redirected away from these “false solutions” to actually protect the rights of the communities that are most vulnerable.

Demonstration by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, speaking against carbon markets and other “false” technocratic solutions to climate change.

(Photo: Zoha Shawoo, SEI)

As COP25 came to a close, hopes were low for any progress on loss and damage with several developed countries continually blocking any developments. But the messages coming from the ground were clear. The money that needs to come in needs to be in the form of compensation, not aid. And it needs to come without conditions, in order to address a historic injustice that has created the current climate emergency. Finance needs to be redirected away from market-based solutions and fossil fuel subsidies and instead invested in a new loss and damage fund. And it needs to be additional to any existing climate and adaptation finance.

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