Will the children of Vanuatu have a future?

11Feb 2019
The Guardian
Will the children of Vanuatu have a future?
  • It's time for those who caused climate change to pay for it

Ralph Regenvanu is Vanuatu's Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade and Avinash Persaud was special advisor to the Prime Minister of Dominica on the recovery from hurricane Maria and is special envoy to the Prime Minister of Barbados on investment and finance.

climate change

Our countries face climate change impacts as damaging as a war: a category five hurricane releases energy equivalent to 10,000 times the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Countries in the path of hurricanes and cyclones and submerging coasts are on the front line. Both Vanuatu and Dominica have suffered through multiple and consecutive climate-fueled extreme events in the past years.

In the space of a few hours after making landfall at 9 pm on September 18, 2017, Hurricane Maria caused destruction costing $1.4 billion, or 226 percent of Dominica's GDP. On March 13, 2015, Cyclone Pam wreaked record-breaking devastation on Vanuatu, wiping out over 64 percent of GDP and crippling livelihoods and the national economy.

With these events climate change crashed out of theoretical construct into our lived reality, pulling the future into the present.

The people of Dominica and Vanuatu faced these impacts with great bravery, cultural resilience and enormous resolve. They had little choice but to get back on their feet and rebuild.

And the international community responded warmly - both humanitarian appeals were among the most successful in that year. Grants and loans were made available. But even so, only a fraction of the loss and damage suffered was addressed.

But despite this new awareness and action around climate change loss and damage, and despite the global climate conferences and heartfelt generosity, humanity continues to avoid the key issue: Those who gain from the activities that created climate change are not the ones directly suffering its consequences.

This simple statement lies at the heart of the problem we now face, and unless we respond to this, we cannot embrace a better direction of travel. The solution lies not in science, nor institutions, but in the most straightforward interplay of morality, economics and injustice.

Solutions that do not solve those variables of the equation have failed. Climate change is not a freak of nature. It is human-made, as human-made as power and greed. If the consequences of climate change were felt disproportionately by those who have contributed to it, it would have stopped long ago. These are the facts.

Most countries accept the 'polluter pays' principle - those who pollute should pay the cost of that pollution. It is a golden nexus of morality, economics, and environmental policy. Presently, however, it is the battered and suffering in the paths of hurricanes and cyclones - not the polluter - who pay.

Take the insurance model championed by many industrialised countries and agencies. Island states on the front line are being asked to take on additional insurance against the future losses and damage of a climate change caused by others. Surely our main response to human-made climate change cannot be to try and make it easier for those on the receiving end to pay for the damage?

Imagine if the only people who had to pay for car insurance were those who were hit by other people, and those that did the hitting paid nothing. Right now the communities paying for climate change are mostly the poor, who live in the world's most precarious places. This is untenable, indefensible and reprehensible. We need a different approach than the traditional insurance model.

We call upon countries and the international institutions to establish a meaningful loss and damage funding facility paid into by those who have contributed to climate change, with payouts that go quickly to those who suffer the direct consequences of climate disasters.

The idea of taxing the fossil fuel industry is an economically sensible approach, and a moral approach. This industry has spent decades fueling climate denial while making profits. In 2017 alone the top six oil companies made $134 billion in profit. A climate damages tax should be established forthwith.

We will only stop climate change by making those who contribute to it pay for it. More talk, more conferences, more insurance where the victims are asked to pay by installment, will not do the job.

We need to end the mismatch between those who gain and those who lose. This is what an international community serious about halting climate change must do.

From the countries on the front line, whose very existence is threatened, from the vanguard of those protecting our common Earth, we urge you to do this. And we hope your feet are swift. Other legal options for addressing loss and damage are not off the table if multilateral international approaches to continue to fail us. We cannot afford to wait.

  Meanwhile   Sara Lickelm writes,  seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we face one of the biggest challenges and injustices of all times Several organisations contributed to this article: Amnesty International, CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law), CARE International, Caritas Internationalis and Secours Catholique (Caritas France).

Seventy years ago, in the wake of World War II, the world emerged from one of its darkest times. This led the international community to send a clear message to future generations: "Never again!"

Through the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, countries enshrined fundamental rights for the dignity and the integrity of every human being, so that humanity will never suffer again from such horrendous acts.

Seven decades later, humanity faces one of the most daunting challenges and injustices of all times. Climate change is already, and will increasingly provoke humanitarian disasters, displacing millions of people. Climate change threatens the enjoyment of a wide range of rights including those to water, food, health, culture, development, a healthy environment, and life itself.

And it exacerbates gender inequality and other forms of discrimination. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published this October warns that if we fail to urgently and massively scale up climate action, the 1.5°C global warming defence line will be reached between 2030 and 2052, and will have devastating and irreversible consequences across the world.

Several hundreds of millions more people will experience poverty if we do not keep the increase of global average temperature below 1.5°C. The scientific community echoes a long-standing call issued, loud and clear, by civil society - governments do not have the luxury to turn a blind eye on climate change. Inaction shows utter contempt for humanity and is a violation of human rights.

The good news is that we can still prevent a humanitarian crisis on the scale of what the world faced 70 years ago. It is now in our hands to reverse the trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015 countries have already committed, through the Paris Agreement, to pursue all efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and to implement action to tackle climate change in a way that respects and promotes human rights.

Now, at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), governments must complete a critical task: finalising a set of guidelines to deliver on the Paris Agreement promises. This 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a timely reminder of the necessity of this action. There can be no trade-offs between climate action and respect for human rights.

We fear that instead of taking action to drastically reduce global emissions, some governments might turn to ineffective and dangerous technical 'fixes', such as massive sequestration of carbon in soils. By doing so, these countries would prevent smallholder food producers from cultivating their land, severely threatening their ability to produce food, access water and maintain their livelihoods. It is unacceptable for governments to continue to nurture a vicious circle of poverty and human rights violations: they must gain the courage to take bold action.

Future generations deserve better. Climate action must embrace solutions based on fully realising human rights, among others, by ensuring meaningful public participation throughout the design, implementation, and evaluation of climate policies. It is critical to respond adequately to people's needs and ensure the broadest public support for climate action.

We should not have to choose between tackling climate change and fighting poverty: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes it clear - these two struggles represent two sides of the same coin and must be achieved in unison.

For example, experience shows that indigenous peoples whose rights over their ancestral lands are recognised by public authorities can play a better role in safeguarding the forests and protecting the carbon stored in them. This brings social co-benefits for the communities themselves, along with enhanced biodiversity and resilience.

This 70th anniversary is more than a number, and more than a celebration. It is an urgent call to action to consider human rights in the light of climate change. By making this commitment on December 10, 1948, governments made a promise to humanity. Now is the moment to give it a new meaning.

In the same vein, Mami Mizutori  writes "It's the economic loss, stupid!"

I would never actually say that to anyone - I am far too reserved. But sometimes I feel it should be shouted from the rooftops in order to attract attention when we are trying to convince governments - and ministries of finance and economic planning, in particular - of the need to develop a greater understanding of how much of a drain extreme weather events really are on a national economy.

Some argue that we cannot afford to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of the economic impact it would have. But we need to hear more about the other side of the story and the toll that climate change is already taking on the national and local economies of both developing and developed countries.

We human-beings are all by nature given to short term thinking - and the only way to reverse this might be to do a better job of capturing the economic-loss data from extreme weather events.

The World Bank tells us that disasters annually cost the global economy about $520 billion, and this is the most damning figure I have come across so far. But the truth is that no one really knows with precision the extent of the direct losses suffered by national economies.

Why? Because we simply are not doing a good job of measuring those losses, particularly if they are not insured.The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction recently published a review of available economic loss-related data caused by disasters, in collaboration with the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain, based on their data for over 7,000 major disasters recorded in the past 20 years.

We found that the number of weather and climate related disasters had doubled over the last two decades, accounting for 90 percent of all major disasters.

We also found that these climate-related events now account for 77 percent of $3 trillion in recorded losses for both climate-related and geophysical events such as earthquakes.

However, the most surprising figure of all is that there is no economic loss data for 63 percent of the disasters recorded over the last 20 years.

When it comes to low-income countries, no economic loss data is available for nearly 87 percent of disasters.And yet we know the same low-income countries that contribute the least to climate change are suffering the most in terms of lives lost, people displaced, and damage to infrastructure and food security.

Capturing economic loss data serves at least two functions if we want to create a resilient world, one fit to cope with the upward curve of global warming.

First, it will hopefully motivate finance ministers to focus on the need to factor risk information into investment decisions around critical infrastructure. The most expensive in this category is the hospital, school or public utility that fails in a storm or a flood.

Second, good economic data can drive planning at the national and local level to ensure that strategies for reducing disaster risk are inclusive of climate change adaptation and provide clear guidance on how to avoid creating new risk.Good accounting of your disaster losses is part of good governance. Efforts to eradicate poverty at national and local level will only succeed if the poor and vulnerable are protected from future losses.

Economic losses are key to measuring the success or failure of the overall 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the global plan for reducing disaster losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

What is not measured, quickly becomes invisible. What is invisible is lost. And what is lost, cannot be acted on or remedied.

Mami Mizutori is the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.



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