During COP28 in the UAE, the signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement achieved a consensus on the operationalization of new funding arrangements, including a Loss and Damage Fund.
It is significant that the Loss and Damage Fund’s agreed framework acknowledges the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and children while recognizing their sheer vulnerability. The agreement emphasizes prioritized measures to safeguard their rights and wellbeing in the face of climate-induced losses. It also underscores the need for targeted support, including access to resources – education, healthcare and resilience-building.
Not only does it emphasize the importance of gender-responsive and child-centric approaches but also outlines key strategies to empower women and enhance the adaptive capacity of children in communities affected by climate-induced disasters.
The inclusion of women and children in the Loss and Damage Fund signifies a crucial step towards addressing the intersectional impacts of climate change. This recognition acknowledges that women and children bear the worst brunt of climate-induced disasters due to their existing social, economic, and cultural vulnerabilities, as well as their marginalization in decision-making processes. By specifically acknowledging this reality, the agreement commits to promoting gender-responsive approaches within climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Likewise, it recognizes the unique vulnerabilities of children in the face of climate-induced disasters. It acknowledges that children are particularly susceptible to a plethora of associated risks such as displacements, disruptions to education and healthcare, heightened risks of food insecurity, and psychosocial trauma.
The agreement’s focus on children and women is commendable as it aims to protect their rights, wellbeing, and future prospects. This entails investing in systems that prioritize children for essential services to alleviate the enduring effects of trauma induced by climate change.
It is quite evident that the impact of emergencies is disproportionately felt by women, girls and children with special abilities. During the floods of 2022, more than 650,000 pregnant and lactating women were among the millions of individuals severely impacted. The affected women lacked access to essential healthcare services and the support required for childbirth and newborn care.
The unprecedented magnitude of the climate event led to a total halt in the healthcare system. The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan were significantly impacted, with a majority of their health facilities being destroyed. Furthermore, at least 25,993 schools experienced damage or were entirely demolished. The substantial deterioration of roads and communication networks additionally impeded access to medical and educational facilities.
Since the catastrophe, I have frequently visited the places. My most recent visit was last week where I met the affected – men, women, youth, and children. It was again a poignant experience as I listened to their harrowing stories. The ordeal has not ceased for them; the profound suffering remains pervasive. The feelings of despair and hopelessness persistently confront wherever one goes. Children still languish in gloomy circumstances, forced to live in crumbled homes with no essential amenities in their reach such as clean water, health and sanitation. There is hardly any livelihood available to the affected families to sustain themselves and provide for their children.
It is heart-wrenching to witness women and children, including girls and boys, with pallid expressions, severely malnourished, and infants showing ubiquitous signs of stunted growth. The enormity of the devastation has been such that it has crumbled almost the entire government system related to health, water, sanitation, and education, with little to no progress made towards their restoration or functionality. It is because the restoration requires gigantic financial resources needed for life to return to a level even below normal. The federal and provincial governments as well as civil society have made tremendous efforts but the scale of the catastrophe necessitates financial investments.
Impoverished communities which bear minimal responsibility for instigating climate rage look towards those nations that are primarily responsible for bringing the monster to their doorstep. The unmerited predicament warrants assistance to be provided consistently and promptly. Global commitments made in Geneva in January 2023 by the world’s ‘haves’, even if fully realized, would fall significantly short in scale when compared to the substantial requirements needed to tackle the formidable challenges.
It is now imperative for the countries to intensify efforts and expedite progress on the strong commitments made in the agreement document with the following words: “Given the urgent and immediate need for new, additional, predictable and adequate financial resources to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in responding to economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, especially in the context of ongoing and ex post (including rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction) action.”
Data by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from 2016-2020 shows that loans accounted for 72 per cent of international climate finance. As the proportion of non-concessional finance is growing, multilateral, bilateral, and regional financial institutions need to leverage their climate funds as grants instead of loans to support local-led adaptation (LLA) and mitigation initiatives.
These efforts are vital for minimizing and recovering from losses and damages caused by climate events. Rightfully spotlighting the vicious spiral of debt, the UNDP calls for adaptive social protection and a ‘debt-poverty pause’ to redirect debt repayments towards critical social expenditures.
Juxtaposed to the ostensible despair and despondency, there exists a glimmer of hope in the eyes of youth and children. Hidden within their conversation is an idea of fundamental perseverance, poised to withstand challenges and strengthen their resilience. The challenge is never greater than the determination to conquer it.
As committed, the Fund needs to engage governments to establish country-level consultative forums to communicate with and involve the groups most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in the design, development, and implementation of the activities financed by the Fund. It is necessary for the government to develop a national framework on loss and damage for the purpose of pre-positioning.
There is also a need for targeted support and interventions, as well as tailored stratagems to build adaptive capacity, strengthen social safety nets, and promote sustainable livelihoods. By addressing the root causes of vulnerability, such as poverty and gender inequality, governments – federal and provincial – need to enhance the resilience of women and children by prioritizing their needs and rights.
This involves guaranteeing the participation of women, youth, and children in the planning and decision-making processes aimed at providing them with access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Empowering the most vulnerable individuals has been empirically demonstrated to not only increase their resilience to climate change but also foster more inclusive and sustainable development trajectories.
The writer is a climate governance expert who works for global development organizations in the fields of research, advisory, policy analysis, and legislative reforms. He tweets/posts @razashafqat