Among 8 billion people on our planet, there are nearly 90 million that have been forcibly displaced – away from the place they called home, away from loved ones. This is more than at any other time in written human history.
In many cases, forced displacement is a result of climate change as it wreaks havoc on critical ecosystems, access to basic needs and ultimately threatens livelihoods. Most troubling about this reality is that these people are rarely – if ever – the perpetrators of promulgating climate change. They are the victims of climate change as most wealthy nations and huge private corporations continue to harm the planet through unsustainable deforestation, water pollution, dirty mining and excessive use of fossil fuels.
For those that are forcibly displaced, they are taking on greater risk and becoming more vulnerable in the short term for the sake of long term sustainability in their lives. They walk hundreds and thousands of miles, risk their safety, face unpredictable health challenges and may never even make it to their intended destination. It is degrading – and entirely unnecessary given the amount of wealth that can be applied toward climate loss and damages, mitigation and adaptation.
The recently adjourned 27th Conference on the Planet in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt brought together UN Member States and approximately 40,000 people to discuss the devastating effects and threats of climate change, as well as the dire and timely need for new financing specifically for loss and damages to the nations and people that are victims of climate change.
Though climate adaptation efforts can be the difference between being forcibly displaced or being able to make the choice to stay in one’s home, it is not always possible given the magnitude and frequency of climate shocks as the earth is irrevocably damaged. Loss and damage financing will ensure that countries receive due reparation to more easily achieve sustainability and economic stability, and a means to address mitigation and adaptation capacity.
Private jets flew overhead carrying Heads of States and corporate big-wigs into the COP27 host nation, itself facing food insecurity and poverty due to climate change along with all other nations in Africa. All. The irony of inequity was palpable.
This time, low income developing nations, especially small island states, were not taking no for an answer in the COP27 negotiations. Standing behind them and targeting high-income country delegations were thousands of civil society organizations and faith-based groups. Among them was Church World Service, as part of the ACT Alliance Ecumenical Delegation to COP27.
“What do we want? Climate finance! When do we want it? NOW!”
ACT Alliance members joined together to amplify the voices of people and nations victim to climate change, most of which are faith-based cultures. Members also spoke in over a dozen side events and participated in faith press conferences, attended hundreds of panel discussions and sat in on the formal negotiations. Utilizing these many angles and lifting up the voices of the vulnerable, the ACT Alliance delegation was able to engage in several discussions with UN Member State delegations to impart critical input to the formal outcome agreement.
The collective action and demand for political will was not without challenges, as wealthier nations pushed back discussing, for example, that some low income countries have themselves been perpetrators of climate change or taking advantage of other low income countries through unsustainable loan schemes. And in other cases, some low income countries discussed whether or not to take advantage of newly discovered oil reserves or risk further immediate economic instability in trying to transition to clean energy without loss and damage financing.
The negotiations and sideline conversations of input, discourse, report results, human rights marches and partnership announcements lasted for two long weeks in the coastal city of the Sinai Desert. Finally, after a belated adjournment that went into the early hours of Sunday, 20 November 2022, UN Member States agreed to loss and damage financing.
This agreement is not only a commitment to critical reparations for victims of climate change, but also an acknowledgment of the realities of climate change: it is not a natural trend; it has been promulgated by greed, and; it needs to be financed to stabilize economies and strengthen national security.
This will not be able to be financed and addressed overnight. A group of 24 UN Member States will strategize over the next year to determine from and to whom loss and damage financing will flow, among other processes. In the meantime, there is much more advocacy to be done to keep up the pressure on wealthy nations and hold private companies accountable, and to ensure that the financing methods will really help yield a world that is sustainable for all of humanity and the planet. We all have a role to play in this.
And let us not only identify those that continue to walk away from their homes as victims and forcibly displaced persons. They are survivors. They are our brothers and sisters.
Mary Kate Costello is the Director of International Policy and Relations at Church World Service.