November 16, 2022
SINGAPORE – Living in a time when the climate crisis is set to worsen, young people attending the COP27 climate summit in Egypt are calling for loss and damage compensation to cope with the irreversible impact of climate change.
Holding protests at the conference venue, several youth organisations demanded that countries set up a finance facility to provide new, additional and accessible funding to address and limit the irreversible effects of climate change.
The Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, Youngo (the youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and the UK Youth Climate Coalition also called for a youth advisory committee on loss and damage to be set up so that youth can be more meaningfully included in the decision-making process.
Ms Hyacinthe Niyitegeka, 28, a co-founder of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, said that while she is glad loss and damage have officially been added to the COP agenda this year, it is only the beginning of a long battle to get countries largely responsible for the climate crisis to pay up and compensate developing countries affected by the crisis.
So far, countries such as Austria, New Zealand and Denmark have pledged to finance loss and damage.
The Loss and Damage Youth Coalition was founded in 2020 to rally youth from developing countries in the Global South to raise awareness of the scale and extent of damage that have been escalating in intensity caused by the climate crisis.
The Global South refers broadly to the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania.
“There are many people out there who are not aware of these losses and damage, including youth,” said Ms Niyitegeka, a water scientist from Rwanda.
“With this initiative, we want to be able to fight for ourselves, fight for our future, and at the same time, raise the profile of youth voices on the global stage to pressure world leaders to fulfil their promises.”
Student Xuan Zihan, 22, a Singaporean representative of Youngo, said: “Young people are not merely victims who are disproportionately affected by worsening climate impacts, but are also active agents of change and incubators of innovative ideas and solutions.”
Having meaningful youth involvement in negotiations could also push for higher climate ambition and intergenerational equity, he added.
Filipino climate activist Mitzi Jonnelle Tan, 25, wants young people to have a stake in loss and damage negotiations due to the sheer scale of climate debt that poorer countries would have to potentially pay.
“A lot of loss and damage finance that has been given to developing countries are in the form of loans, and not grants, which would mean that many countries will go into debt to these Global North countries.
“It is not just the older generation who will be paying off this debt, but the younger generation and the generations to come,” said Ms Tan, who is with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines.
Extreme weather events are now increasing in intensity and frequency.
In October, a severe tropical storm – Typhoon Noru – swept across the Philippines, affecting close to three million people and damaging billions of pesos’ worth of infrastructure and agriculture.
In Pakistan, severe flooding in 2022 has claimed more than 7,000 lives, and caused almost US$40 billion (S$55 billion) in damage, said Mr Pervez Ali, 19, the country coordinator for youth climate advocacy group Fridays for Future (Pakistan).
“So it’s a big catastrophe, and I think as youth representatives from Pakistan, we should be emphasising youth involvement in policymaking because it’s our future,” he added.
But while the economic fallout from climate change – such as the loss of infrastructure, homes and agricultural land – is large, young people are also worried about the non-economic or intangible losses, such as the impact on physical and mental health, that can be difficult to quantify.
Intense flooding events and cyclones in Fiji and Pakistan, for example, have left a traumatic imprint on the youth in those countries.
Mr Lavetanalagi Seru, 30, the regional policy coordinator at the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, said that young people who survived a Category 5 typhoon in the Fijian island of Gau in 2016 are still afraid to play in the rain, and cry at any sound of thunder.
The Fijian added: “We don’t have adequate facilities and the necessary resources to deal with mental health on this scale. To be able to address this, we would need funding, and it would have to come from a loss and damage finance facility.”
Likewise, Mr Ali hopes for attention and loss and damage funding in Pakistan to go towards climate education, so that young people can better understand and cope with climate change’s effects.
He added that massive floods have destroyed schools and homes, and upended the lives of many, displacing people to other parts of the country.
Dr Sandeep Chamling Rai, a senior adviser for WWF International’s Global Policy Adaptation, said that the finance facility might account for mostly loss and damage that can be measured in monetary terms.
Dr Rai said resources from the fund can potentially be used to minimise non-economic losses, such as by creating new conservation areas to minimise biodiversity loss, or to help relocate people from one place to another.
Ms Joy Reyes, a human rights and climate justice lawyer with the Manila Observatory, said: “I hope that the finance facility really focuses on assisting those that are historically at the margins, especially indigenous people, who are similarly the front-liners of the climate crisis and its last line of defence.”
This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker’s COP27 Climate Justice Fellowship.