Photo: drought impacts in Madagascar – Jules Bosco, Salohi, USAID

New loss and damage fund announced at COP27 – A critical need or another empty promise in a time of climate crisis

It is hard to imagine that Madagascar, the island state portrayed as a pristine haven for all of nature in the charming Hollywood animated movie by the same name, can be dealt so much loss and suffering. The unfolding tragedy in the world’s fourth largest island nation comes as a result of cyclone flooding and storms, droughts and wildfires, and hundreds of plant and animal species loss making it one of the countries at the epicentre of the climate crisis. Perhaps then there were some restrained ‘hoorahs’ by the Malagasy on the announcement of a loss and damage fund at the just ended COP27 climate negotiations in Egypt.

Recovery and reparation in a time of crises

Most recently, disaster struck when tropical cyclone Batsirai made landfall in early February. Another deadly storm hit the central region of the island just a few weeks after. Batsirai hit the South-Eastern region of Madagascar on 5th February, with winds of 165 km/h and gusts of 230 km/h. In the early aftermath, the number of displaced people was estimated to be 150 000. The World Food Program also estimated that 1.64 million people were in a situation of severe food insecurity at the time. Women peasant farmers were the hardest hit as they lost not only their home and belongings but also all their seeds and crops. Scientists now say that the Indian ocean, in which the country is located, is the fastest heating ocean in the world and it is this heating that is creating the conditions for cyclones to emerge. In fact, a stunning thirty eight cyclones are said to have impacted the country from 2000 to 2020.

The South of Madagascar has also been hit by its worst drought in 40 years. The World Food Programme estimates that more than one million people are “struggling to get enough to eat, due to what could become the first famine caused by climate change.” Again, women constitute the large majority of the estimated 91 percent of the population living below the poverty line in this region and have been most severely impacted.

Being hit by crisis after crisis makes recovery extremely difficult. When you overlay the already existing poverty and inequality affecting people in much of the country this creates the conditions for a near permanent state of disaster. To add insult to injury, the country is part of Africa which is the continent that has least contributed to the climate crisis. In fact, historical emissions from the region amount to only about 3% to climate change. They suffer the worst, whilst causing the least.

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Photo: aftermath of Cyclone Batsirai, Madagascar – CRAADOI 2022.

Loss and damage: a ‘big win’ for the Global South or not really?

So given this, will the loss and damage fund, which is being described as a landmark win at the climate negotiations by the Global South, be a salve for the Malagasy’s gaping wounds? Whilst this marks an important step in recognising the responsibility of those who caused the climate crisis to now pay for the impacts, it is hard not to be cynical.  The Loss and Damage Fund is preceded by other funds which have not been capitalised. The most recent fund of hope, the Green Climate Fund had countries of the Global North agree to inject $100 billion a year into it. Yet years later, the fund has raised only a fraction of this amount. Most of the monies are transferred to private sector and other international financial institution intermediaries to manage, and funds don’t seem to be getting to those most in need. The Adaptation Fund has fared even worse. Touted as a democratic fund with decision-making being equal amongst all nations, and dispensing grants rather than loans, the fund was hailed as a success. But over 20 years later, governments are only now making some weak pledges and contributions to the fund, the results of which are still to be seen while it continues to limp along.

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Photo: Activists demanding climate justice at COP24 – WoMin.

One wonders whether one more empty fund is the answer to what is fundamentally a problem of political will to urgently tackle the crisis. Instead, and amidst the Russian-Ukrainian war which is putting energy resources in peril, Europe and other parts of the Global North are looking to Africa and frontier countries like Madagascar to supply their own gas needs. It is a tragic irony that in a time of climate induced cyclones and droughts, the Malagasy government is even thinking about exploiting its gas reserves – with gas being a major driver of the climate crisis – for what it calls ‘development’.

And in its usual style of lack of ambition, the COP27 did not arrive at any decision on the halting or even ‘phasing down’ of fossil fuels like gas to stay within 1.5 degrees of warming. The most that was committed was a suggestion by oil-rich countries particularly in the middle east to not stop digging up the oil but rather to attempt to capture and sequester the carbon created. Put into this context, it appears that the Fund is more of a gesture that promotes the status quo while ensuring countries like Madagascar continue to suffer. A false flash of hope before the dying.   

It is ultimately up to the people of the Madagascar and others in the Global South that have not been given a seat at the decision-making table in spaces like the COP to rise up and demand climate justice. There can be strength and power in unified resistance to fossil fuels and the other causes of the crisis. So too can suing governments of the Global North and their corporations to provide the direct funds for loss and damage and ultimately pay the climate debt that is owed.   

The time for true climate justice is now.

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