On November 20, 2022, members of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) passed a loss and damage fund. Most plainly, the fund is an agreement by G20 nations to aid developing, climate-vulnerable countries with financial assistance as they adapt to the effects of extreme weather patterns in their territories.
G20, an intergovernmental forum of countries like the United States (U.S.), Argentina and France — nations that are historically responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. However, changing weather patterns impact low-income nations the most and they often carry the burdens related to that even though they are not all as responsible for carbon emissions as other countries. For example, Pakistan emits less than 1% of global admissions yet has $30 billion in damages from severe flooding.
The Need for a Loss and Damage Fund in the Maldives
Climate-vulnerable countries have been demanding a loss and damage fund for more than three decades, with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) spearheading the movement. G77 nations, a group with developing economies like the Bahamas, believe high-emission countries have a climate debt they need to pay to poor nations whose standards of living are suffering due to changing weather patterns.
As a result of extreme climate disasters, such as severe flooding, bushfires, species extinction, rising sea levels and crop failures, citizens of impoverished nations are losing their land and culture. One prime example of such a nation is the Maldives, as rising sea levels are affecting the country.
Trouble in the Maldives
The Maldives is a nation made up of 1,190 islands facing territorial damage as a result of changing weather patterns. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heightened ocean temperatures as a result of global warming have led to rising sea levels and 70% of its coral bleaching. As a low-lying country with 99% of its territory consisting of seawater and most islands sitting at less than one meter above sea level, the Maldives sinks further into the ocean every year.
The Maldives’ most pressing issue is beach erosion. As a result of sea levels rising, sand ends up in the ocean and trees’ roots cannot support them, wiping away land from the islands as ocean levels rise 3 to 4 millimeters per year.
While the Maldives is losing its geographic and physical presence to the ocean, its population is also facing cultural erasure. As communities move once their homes and recreational centers become uninhabitable, a culture heavily connected to the sea is unable to properly interact with the water surrounding it. The waning biodiversity and health of coral reefs, beaches and mangrove ecosystems also prevent the traditional fishing industry from flourishing.
The Maldives and the Loss and Damage Fund
Due to the damaging sea level rise in the Maldives, advocates like former president Mohamed Nasheed were major supporters of developed countries providing financial assistance to island nations. Adaptations to help mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns on the population include a sea wall to prevent beach erosion and protect the main island of Malé from wave destruction. However, initiatives for improving urban infrastructure and disaster preparation are expensive, resulting in a World Bank loan of more than $16 million to the Maldives for climate mitigation measures.
The Maldivian government has supported the installment of a loss and damage fund so it could freely take measures to keep its population and land safe from changing weather patterns without owing massive debts to organizations like the World Bank. Now that the Maldives has passed the fund, the Maldives must wait until COP28 for financial planning to get underway. Nonetheless, $140 to $300 billion will likely go toward climate-vulnerable nations.
For now, the Maldives is looking to be resilient to climate impacts by exploring alternative measures. The government finished the construction of a man-made island, Hulhumalé, in 2018. Labeled the City of Hope by locals, it is two meters above sea level, which mitigates the impact of flooding, beach erosion and sea level rise on the island. With space for more than 240,000 people, the Maldivian government is hoping to move residents from the capital of Malé, where space is limited due to the island’s sinking, to new homes.
As the construction of Hulhumalé demonstrates, the Maldivian government and its people are tackling the effects of extreme weather patterns on their nation in innovative ways. The loss and damage fund established at COP27 appears to be a promising step in the direction of climate justice and resilience for impoverished nations.
– Meilyn Farina