The term “Loss and Damage” (L&D) has gained increasing attention in the international climate change discourse in recent years, but not many people know what this term means and why it exists.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), L&D refers to the unavoidable negative impacts of climate change. This includes the loss of human lives, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and damage to ecosystems and biodiversity because of events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and more.
While developed nations are mostly responsible for climate change due to their high carbon emissions, developing nations are the ones who are experiencing the biggest losses and damages. This is because they are more vulnerable due to their geographic locations and a lack of infrastructure and early warning systems that can help lessen the impact of natural disasters.
Last year, at COP27 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, a decision was taken after years of negotiations to establish and begin discussing the financial arrangements for an L&D fund. Theoretically, developed nations will contribute to this fund in order to help developing nations recover from the damages incurred due to climate change.
Southern Africa is no stranger to L&D caused by climate change. In 2019 and 2023, Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Freddy landed in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. In April 2021, Cyclone Eloise caused widespread damage in the region, particularly in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces, where severe floods resulted in the loss of more than 70 lives, and significant damage to critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and water treatment plants.
The impacts of these cyclones highlight the urgent need for southern African countries to be aware of the L&D caused by climate change and take action to address it. The cost of rebuilding critical infrastructure damaged by the recent floods is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. There is a significant burden for governments in a region where resources are already stretched thin.
This is where a fund that can support the rebuilding of critical infrastructure damaged by climate change comes into play. Such a fund can help communities and governments rebuild after climate disasters, reducing the burden on already stretched budgets.
In addition, it can include funding for constructing more resilient infrastructure that can withstand future climate events and minimise L&D.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report supports the need for such a fund. It states that climate change will continue to cause severe and widespread impacts in the coming decades. The report also notes that many of these impacts will be irreversible, making it essential to take action now to reduce the risk of future Loss and Damage.
However, the responsibility to address L&D caused by climate change cannot rest solely on governments. Citizens have a role to play in raising awareness and advocating for action.
The recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are a stark reminder of the real-life impacts of climate change on people’s lives and livelihoods. By speaking out and demanding action from our elected officials, citizens can help the L&D caused by climate change get the attention and resources it deserves.
It’s important to note that L&D caused by climate change is not limited to southern Africa and that establishing an L&D Fund is only the first step in addressing this problem. Decisions around the fund, such as how it will be managed, who will contribute to it and who will benefit from it, still have to be taken.
The international community must also support developing nations to address L&D. This must include financial and technical support to build more resilient infrastructure, improve disaster preparedness and rebuild critical infrastructure damaged by climate disasters.
L&D caused by climate change is an urgent issue that requires immediate action. Southern African countries and their citizens must be aware of the impacts of L&D and take action to address it. Citizens have an essential role in advocating for action and raising awareness of the real-life impacts of climate change.
With the latest scientific reports highlighting the severity of the problem, it’s clear that we cannot afford to delay action any longer. Governments and citizens must take action to address the Loss and Damage caused by climate change and build a more resilient future for all. DM