As another big climate conference looms and global ‘loss and damage’ takes hold, we must keep pressure on the biggest emitters
Prof Saleemul Huq died on 28 October, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was 71. This is his final piece of writing
Prof Saleemul Huq OBE and I wrote and submitted this article before his untimely death on Saturday 28 October, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Huq was a visionary and steadfast leader on climate justice, a champion of developing countries at climate negotiations, an advocate for the global poor, and a source of inspiration to thousands worldwide. He continually pushed for “loss and damage” measures, whereby the nations that emit the bulk of greenhouse gasses help address the needs of lower-emitting nations who nonetheless bear the brunt of the climate crisis. A loss and damage fund was finally achieved at Cop27, but it needs strong advocates to ensure it is followed and expanded.
His sudden death is a blow to the global south, and to all those who work towards climate justice. Here, we touch on our concerns for the upcoming Cop28 summit, and the future of the loss and damage project, and call for greater concerted efforts on climate accountability. —-Farhana Sultana
After recent historic floods and wildfires, the staggering toll of climate change is becoming increasingly evident. Yet despite these intensifying disasters, there is little hope for accountable action to tackle the climate crisis as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or Cop28, approaches. Leaders of high-emitting countries, including the US, Canada, UK and now China, are particularly responsible for climate change, and must change course if we are to avoid the worst and address the disparity and unevenness evident in current climate policy.
Thankfully, via the Paris Agreement, many countries have pledged and released finances to support climate mitigation (preventing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and transitioning to renewable energy) and climate adaptation (actions needed to adapt to current and expected climate impacts and reduce their harm). There is now regular monitoring of the progress of these payments, checks on how commitments are being upheld and tracking of what outcomes are being achieved – and these are positive steps. However, high-emitting countries failed to reach the pledged target of giving $100bn a year to developing countries by 2020.
Unfortunately, in many cases the damage has already been done. In increasing numbers of places, adaptation is no longer possible – for instance, where displacement, ecosystem damage and loss of homeland to sea-level rise has already occurred. This is “loss and damage” in real time. For three decades, small island states and vulnerable countries have campaigned for recognition of loss and damage in international negotiations, to no avail. Millions of people’s futures hinge on initiatives such as the UN’s transition committee on loss and damage, aiming to channel climate finance to the most-affected regions. However, the committee failed to reach an agreement ahead of Cop28.
Former first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon was an early champion of loss and damage measures from rich countries at Cop26 and Cop27. While pledging £2m initially, and then another £5m, she urged powerful industrialised countries to commit to meeting the gap in financing for meaningful climate justice. Scotland was also one of the first countries to talk about climate reparations, recognising that historical accountability was important.
Unfortunately, the US and the UK, among others, have categorically ruled out climate reparations. Whether this is out of concern about the phrasing of their accountability, and the possibility that they could be vulnerable to litigation, remains unclear. The US in particular disagreeing to pay climate reparations, despite being the largest greenhouse gas polluter cumulatively, and thereby the biggest climate change contributor historically, is a blatant abdication of responsibility. The same can be said of other colonial and imperial powers in Europe. Increasingly, attention is being placed on China and its growing emissions of recent years – but we must not forget our history.
Without doubt, beyond any commitments made at Cop28, the need for greater corporate accountability and local action remain critical. The fossil fuel industry continues to produce, maintain and benefit from greenhouse gas emissions, and must fundamentally change their business model. Meanwhile, greater efforts by local governments, civic groups and nonprofits remain crucial to tackling ongoing and increasing climate injustices on the ground.
Climate accountability is a shared duty. It’s an intricate web of actions, decisions and commitments. Rather than a buzzword, it’s the bedrock of our fight against the climate crisis.
As the world prepares for Cop28, the onus is on global leaders, corporations and individuals to rise to the occasion and champion the cause of climate justice. Wealthy nations must start putting real funding towards loss and damage, while ramping up their mitigation and adaptation efforts, and reining in the influence of the fossil fuel industry in climate policies.
The future of our planet depends on it.
About the Authors:
Farhana Sultana is a professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York
Saleemul Huq was the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh
Originally this article was published on November 01, 2023 at The Guardian.