Africa: loss and damage are “a priority subject to be addressed at COP27”, insists Senegalese environmental activist Aïssatou Diouf

Aïssatou Diouf is in charge of international policies and advocacy at the NGO Enda Energie based in Dakar, Senegal. The coordinator of the Climate Action Network (Réseau Action Climat), in West and Central Africa, discusses the challenges for African countries at the COP27 to be held in Egypt.

Loss and damage is a major issue for African states. Where are we a few weeks away from COP27?

One of the main advances achieved after Glasgow [où s’est tenue la COP26] and years of struggle, it is political recognition, the fact that we can put the issue of loss and damage on the negotiating table as an absolute priority for countries in the South, particularly African countries. They fought hard last year to obtain what is called the “Glasgow dialogue” [cadre de discussion] on loss and damage, an important first political step. Nevertheless, the question remains open, especially for this COP. The first battle is to ensure that the financial mechanism for loss and damage is kept on the agenda that will be discussed on the first day. And it is not won yet. This point is on the provisional agenda but it will be necessary that at the opening of the conference, all the States can agree on its maintenance. Because there are still countries that do not want this subject to be discussed. We would like this item on the agenda to be settled before the start of the COP so that there can be a substantive discussion during the conference. It should be noted that there is a strong mobilization of both African States and countries of the South. But also of international civil society. Another expectation: to have a separate funding mechanism.

What is the particularity of the mechanism that is claimed?
Developing countries argue that loss and damage are distinct from mitigation [réduction des émissions] and adaptation [mesures d’ajustement aux impacts climatiques]. When we talk about loss and damage [se remettre des impacts climatiques], this means that we can no longer adapt. When we have torrential rains in Niger, Senegal or Kenya and there is loss of human life, we cannot adapt to that. It’s finish ! If herders lose their livestock because of the drought, we cannot adapt to that either. It is fundamental to consider the issue of loss and damage as a third element, in addition to adaptation and mitigation, to complete the puzzle necessary to combat climate change. Globally, we are unable to mitigate the effects of climate change to stay on the trajectory set by the paris agreement and there is insufficient support for adaptation efforts. Today, these losses and damages are present in our daily lives. If someone loses their house because of the floods that many countries are experiencing or there are cyclones, like in Mozambique, it is essential to have a financial mechanism to support them.

How would it work?

It is up to the States to define the contours of the governance of this mechanism. What is most important for developing countries is that it is part of the Agreement [CCNUCC, la Convention-cadre des Nations unies sur les changements climatiques] which is, today, the only binding instrument we have. This will also make it possible to know whether the States are respecting their commitments. A specific mechanism under the convention enshrines the fact that it is not development aid, let alone humanitarian aid. This is also why we need an additional fund to those that already exist. Funding must be public and allocated to the countries that need it in the form of grants and not loans. This is based on the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. It is not conceivable that States will go into debt again. Especially since in losses and damages, a distinction is made between economic losses − damage caused to resources, goods and services and infrastructure − and non-economic losses linked to the disappearance of lifestyles, culture or even migration away from home.

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The question of climate finance has always been a thorny point. If loss and damage are not on the official agenda in Sharm el-Sheikh, what will happen?

Above all, it would be a shame for all those countries that would not want to discuss it. But in the face of the climate emergency and the mobilization of civil society actors at the international level, I think this should not happen. Having this COP on African soil is an advantage insofar as we will be on one of the continents most marked by global warming. Now is the time to confront rich countries with their shortcomings both in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions than compliance with the financial commitments made. They should not add to this by refusing to allow funding for loss and damage to be on the agenda. At the end of the COP, we must be able to obtain an agreement on the implementation of this financial mechanism which will mark a turning point in the fight against global warming. Otherwise, it would be a new injustice for all these countries and all these communities who are suffering the devastating effects of climate change that they did not cause. I hope that the States concerned will understand this and that such a scenario will not occur..

Climate negotiations are often long when the damage is already there and the victims need support now…

We are indeed in a hurry. This is why we plead for access to this funding to be facilitated and for emergency procedures to be put in place. Conversely, long processes to access the Green Climate Fund. However, we can count on the political mobilization of African States and LDCs [Pays les moins avancés]. We were waiting for it and it is now palpable. The Kinshasa pre-COP demonstrated this again. The Africa Group has made it a priority, as has the G77 [l’un des plus importants groupes de négociation dans lequel se trouve la Chine] and LDCs. There is today a homogeneity of all the groups that bring together the countries of the South to affirm that loss and damage constitute a priority subject to be addressed at COP27 which will, moreover, take place on the African continent..

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