For what people?

  • What will ‘climate loss and damage compensation’ mean if money does not reach those it is meant for
- Navin Singh Khadka
For what people?

Apr 23, 2015-

An editorial in this daily earlier this week carried the plight of the people displaced by last year’s devastating monsoon floods in mid-western districts (‘Too little, too late,’ April 21). It highlighted how the government had practically abandoned the flood victims languishing in makeshift camps with another rainy season just weeks away.

The displaced population come in their thousands from Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet, and Dang districts, where nearly 250 people died because of ferocious floods last monsoon. These were the places where parents tied their children up on tree trunks to protect them from getting swept away by gushing rivers. Several affected families remained on their house roofs and tree branches for days as helicopters hovered above them ‘to study the ground situation’. Outraged locals said such flights only added insult to their injury as there was no assistance coming.

Whither goes the money?

Almost a year down the line, assistance has not come yet. And that flies in the face of proponents of climate finance ranging from politicians to donors and bureaucrats to civil societies. Flood, by far, is the most common event in Nepal in the context of climate change-induced extreme weather patterns.  The country, like in many places, now gets massive rainfall during a short span of time, triggering floods and landslides while the residual wet season remains largely dry. When the victims of this disaster do not get due attention from climate finance’s custodians, how ignored might those be who have been hit by other less-occurring extreme weather events?

Right after the mid-western districts were flooded last monsoon, this column had suggested that Home Minister Bamdev Gautam, whose ministry deals with natural disasters, should check with the Finance Ministry to see how much foreign aid it had received under climate financing and what that money had been spent on. Gautam hasn’t done it, you can bet, nor has the parliamentary development committee, which had then quizzed the government over its poor handling of flood-hit communities in the mid-western districts.

Money, under the climate overhead, has continued to pour in and reports on several donor-funded climate-change projects are stacking up—while families affected by extreme weather events are largely left out in the cold. Just when all this has made climate finance come under question, government officials backed by civil society are now pressing for what is known as ‘loss and damage’ in the jargon of UN climate negotiations. It is basically about the damage caused by climatic changes that will have to be compensated, mainly by countries that have the historic responsibility of emitting most of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The concept has found place on the negotiating table in the run-up to the Paris summit in December, when a global climate deal is expected to be signed.  

Loss and damage

Cheers have been toasted for the recent recognition of the issue in UN climate negotiations, but it is not yet clear which events will be regarded as climate-induced loss and damage and which will not. Scientists say climate-related impacts will be on the rise in different sectors, including in health, agriculture, food security, and infrastructure. The Earth League, which includes 17 scientific research institutions around the world, issued a statement on Wednesday urging world leaders to sign up to an eight-point plan of action during the Paris talks, and one of them is about loss and damage.

“We need a global strategy to reduce vulnerability, build resilience and deal with loss and damage of communities from climate impacts, including collective action and scaled-up support,” the statement read. “With 1°C of warming already having taken place, many societies are challenged by water scarcity, shifting rain patterns and other impacts, this poses a threat to human development in all countries, particularly among the poorest and most vulnerable. A 2°C or more warming of the planet would impose huge social and economic burdens that need to be shouldered through international solidarity.”   

The developed world is understandably jittery that all weather-related events might be claimed by poor countries as climatic loss and damage and that would mean a huge financial burden on the rich countries’ treasury. It will indeed be a long and intensive battle between the developing and developed worlds before compensation for climatic loss and damage is secured. A huge amount of money, time, and energy—again, in the name of climate financing—will be invested to make the developing countries’ negotiators capable of arguing the case. And given that nothing significant seems to be happening towards cutting down carbon emissions to slow down climate change, focus will inevitably shift to adapting to inevitable changes. As it will be a zero-sum game, loss and damage could ultimately be on board.

For whom?

But what use will it be of when even the existing climate finance is not reaching those it is meant for? Coinciding with the last UN climate meet in Peru in December, I reported for the BBC how more than 400 climate projects—known as National Adaptation Program of Action—for poor countries were all set to die without being implemented because there was no money while another bigger climate adaptation plan had been launched. During that investigation, it also emerged that most of the 100 projects marked as implemented had yet to actually kick off on the ground—and Nepal’s were among them.

No wonder then that vulnerable communities in the mid-western districts had to tie their children around tree trunks during the monsoon floods last year. And it looks like they might have to do so this year as well.


Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London


Published: 24-04-2015 10:17

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