The most significant outcome of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties (COP27) in November was an agreement to establish a “loss and damage” fund. There was no breakthrough on concrete measures to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Thus, the deal on loss and damage was the only tangible result to come out of the two-week conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Even in COP26, proponents campaigned for the creation of a fund to assist climate-vulnerable countries suffering from the ravages of typhoons, floods, drought, and wildfire. But the talks were deadlocked last year as developed countries refused to concede on extending financing to nations devastated by extreme weather events due to global warming. In COP27, loss and damage even had a difficult time making it to the agenda. It took last-minute dealings for an agreement to finally be reached.
In fact, critics say that nothing concrete was reached about loss and damage: There are no crucial specifics about who will contribute, how much will be contributed, and who can avail themselves of the fund. But optimists counter that at least a beachhead was taken from which to move forward.
Loss and damage are part of the wider issue of climate financing which involves the costs of transitioning communities from a dependence on fossil fuels to renewables in order to keep global warming below the critical point of no return. Loss and damage are a political issue construed by advocates as reparations by industrialized countries, which are the disproportionate source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to the Global South, which have been disproportionately harmed by climate change.
This asymmetry in climate change sources and impacts intersect with colonialism and plunder. No wonder the United States adamantly opposes calling loss and damage as reparations and prefers to use “foreign aid” for it.
The Philippines is among the countries with the least carbon footprint and yet heavily affected by global warming through supertyphoons, flooding, El Niño, drought, dry spells and extreme heat. Studies show that less than 1% of global GHG emissions is contributed by the Philippines, yet it is ranked second in the Global Climate Risk Index of 2020. The impact of climate change to the Philippines was 0.43 deaths per 100,000 people and 0.48% loss of per unit GDP.
In 1996-2015, the Philippines was the 5th most affected by climate change. The cost was US$2.5 billion per year and 1.0 deaths for every 100,000. About 20% of the GDP was shaved due to climate events. For the years 1999 to 2018, the Philippines was 4th on the Global Climate Risk Index with 0.96 deaths per 100,000 and 0.57% loss of per unit GDP.
The Philippines is among the countries that are repeatedly impacted by disasters, along with Haiti and Pakistan. It was also cited for being affected while still recovering from a previous year’s disaster.
¾ of all deaths
According to the World Meteorological Organization, three-fourths of all deaths due to weather events in the Southwestern Pacific in the last 50 years were in the Philippines. It tallied 48,950 dead and $36.8 billion in damages for the country. Ominously, climate events cost the Philippine economy more than $20 billion—more than half of the total—in just the last 10 years. The deadliest weather disasters were “Yolanda,” “Uring,” “Pablo” and “Winnie.”
A survey by the Social Weather Stations in 2013 showed that 85% of Filipinos claimed to have “personally experienced” climate change impacts in the last three years. Out of this number, 54% described their experience as “severe” to “moderate” and 31% said it was “little.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority placed the cost of major natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes in 2006-2015 at P374 billion. Most of these disasters were linked to weather changes due to global warming. The high cost was due to more disasters compared to previous periods and the fact that more populated, urban and developed areas were affected.
The worst year was 2013, with P107 billion in damage accruing from one major earthquake, two tropical depressions, six tropical storms, and three typhoons, among which was Yolanda.
Even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, three powerful tropical cyclones ripped through the Philippines and left a wake of devastation valued at P12.3 billion. Aside from the direct impact in terms of lives lost and economic damage, the impact on agricultural production led to inflation of food prices.
The most powerful of them, Typhoon “Ulysses,” killed 30 people, destroyed 270,000 houses, and left 3.8 million households without electricity. The damage to agriculture was P2.37 billion worth of rice and P541 million worth of corn. This added to the woes of a population that was already reeling from an economic recession brought about by the pandemic lockdowns—among the longest and strictest in the world—imposed by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Except for humanitarian aid from abroad for extraordinary disasters like Yolanda, the costs of all of these catastrophes have been funded internally. A significant amount of the cost is borne by the government’s limited calamity funds. The private sector contributes its own relief efforts.
But arguably, the major source of “loss and damage” financing is the victims themselves—ordinary farmers who rebuild their homes and farms after flooding, and workers, formal and informal, who absorb the costs of lost wages and incomes due to the inability to work when supertyphoons hit the country.
This has been hailed as resiliency when truly it should be called injustice. To advance climate justice, industrialized nations must be taken to task and urged to step up with the loss and damage fund.
Benjamin B. Velasco is assistant professor and director of the Center for Labor and Grassroots Initiatives, School of Labor and Industrial Relations (Solair), at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is also co-convenor of the Program on Alternative Development at the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS AltDev).