Rising global temperatures are wreaking havoc around the world, leaving a trail of destruction from Kyoto to Kerala. But those least responsible for greenhouse gas (GHG1 ) emissions are also those most struggling to survive the harmful impacts of climate change.
While the full impact of Cyclone Idai is still unknown, the death toll from drowning, dehydration, hunger and cholera will be in the many thousands. One million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are thought to have been displaced. Entire neighbourhoods of victims have been left homeless after the city of Beira was wiped out.
Devastation caused by floods, droughts, wildfires, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes will continue worsening as rising global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events. Food systems in Latin America and the Caribbean are threatened and vector-borne diseases also increase.
Families are being forced from their ancestral homes in the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, as sea water rises around them. Some 20 million people living in the coastal areas of Bangladesh can no longer sustain their livelihoods as a result of decreasing agricultural yields due to salinity and the collapse of coastal infrastructure.
It is not only the historic cities of Karachi and Kolkata that face scorching temperatures, Europe is also seeing deadly heat waves costing thousands of lives. From Portugal to California, wildfires – unprecedented in scope and scale – are becoming more prevalent. Individuals, families, communities and countries are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, known as ‘loss and damage.’
Our collective task is to avoid the unmanageable, manage the unavoidable, and repair the unavoided, unmanageable and inevitable impacts associated with climate change. This involves mitigation efforts that – at a minimum – aim to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goal to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, recognising that this would significantly reduce the adverse impacts of climate change. It also involves funding adaptation initiatives, as well as addressing loss and damage that has already been locked-in as a result of historic GHG emissions.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change “poses an immediate and farreaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In the Paris Agreement, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that they should – when taking action to address climate change – respect, promote and consider their respective obligations with regard to human rights. This includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
The UNFCCC has mandated the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) to facilitate financing to address the harms caused by climate change. These harms are occurring and deepening. When the ninth meeting of the Executive Committee (ExCom) of the WIM takes place in Bonn, Germany (9-11 April 2019), it must make concrete proposals for how states can raise the funds necessary to repair the devastation already being caused by climate change and prepare to cover the costs of future inevitable turmoil as a result of our continuing GHG emissions.
Natural disasters or weather-related events (whether or not attributed to climate change) already cause losses of more than USD$300 billion per year. It is estimated that by 2030, global loss and damage specifically associated with climate change will amount to between USD$300-700 billion, potentially increasing to about USD$1.2 trillion per year by 2060.
Financial damages do not account for the loss of connections to ancestral lands, where traditional ways of life were preserved. Those impacted by such losses cannot turn the clock back. But their rights to compensation must be protected and those who have lost everything to climate change must be given the opportunity to flourish in new communities.
This report evaluates whether market, state and innovative financing proposals for repairing the harmful impacts of climate change comply with the following five key human rights principles:
ensuring a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of current and future generations;
enabling transparency in decision making and the extent of public participation in decision making relating to how loss and damage associated with climate change will be repaired and redressed, with specific attention being paid to the participation and protection of particularly vulnerable groups, and – crucially – victims of climate change harms themselves;
providing access to effective remedies for loss and damage associated with climate change harm recognising that climate change will be felt most acutely by those segments of the population who are already in vulnerable situations owing to factors such as geography, poverty, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability, national or social origin, birth or other status;
ensuring differentiated responsibility, evaluating the extent to which those with larger responsibility for climate change harms contribute to remedying, redressing and repairing loss and damage associated with climate change; and 5. respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in the actions they take to address environmental challenges and pursue sustainable development.
Over the years, rich countries have spent most of their time and resources in establishing and promoting market mechanisms such as catastrophe risk insurance, risk pooling and transfer, and catastrophe bonds to respond to humanitarian crises, regardless of whether they are caused by climate change.
We find that no market mechanisms are compliant with a human rights-centred approach to achieving the financing needed to address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change. On the contrary, most put the financial burden back on developing countries, who are least responsible for causing the climate crisis. Market mechanisms also fail to enable transparency, accountability and participatory decision-making that meaningfully includes the most vulnerable communities impacted by climate change.
The clear winners of our human rights test are:
• better state budgeting that shifts state subsidies away from fossil fuels and towards addressing the impacts of climate change and funding a Just Transition; and
• progressive taxes such as the Climate Damages Tax (on oil, gas and coal extraction) and the Financial Transaction Tax (a small levy to raise revenue from the trading of financial instruments).
A Climate Damages Tax on the fossil fuel industry could raise the funds necessary to repair the financial costs of loss and damage and would also fund programmes to help communities sustainably move towards a low carbon economy. It would raise revenues of between USD$75-150 billion (at a rate of USD$6 per tonne of CO2) and USD$500-1,000 billion (at a rate of USD$40 per tonne of CO2) a year. It puts the onus on those responsible for the root causes of climate change impacts and introduces a regulatory incentive on the fossil fuel giants.
A Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) covering the European Union putting a levy on shares and bonds at 0.1% and derivative agreements at 0.01% has the potential to raise USD$63billion, and a similar global FTT could raise significantly more, given the scale of financial instrument trading internationally.
Reducing the ongoing state subsidies for fossil fuels could raise USD$300 billion, increasing to USD $5.3 trillion when indirect subsidies are included. This would end the paradox of governments continuing to lower the cost of fossil fuel energy production while claiming to be committed to mitigation, adaptation and redressing the loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.