By Rev. Susan Hendershot
Arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Friday, I had a sense of time moving at a much slower pace than I am used to in the U.S. Unless you’re in a taxi, no one seems to be in much of a rush at all. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes” could mean 30 minutes or an hour. Want to look at something in a shop? Be prepared to sit down while the shopkeeper shows you what you wanted to see and 15 other things as well. Don’t be in a hurry.
One morning, walking from my lodgings the quarter mile to the beach, I waded into water that was ankle-deep and so clear that I could see the tiny fish swimming around me, darting off in a panic as my feet got closer. Three dogs ran and played together in the water far offshore because of the shallowness of the water. When one of the dogs seemed afraid of going out further with his friends, he slowly wandered up and stood next to me while I placed my hand on his head and walked alongside him as his comfort human. When he worked up his courage, he was off again, chasing after his buddies. This is the pace of life in this place.
And yet, we are not here to walk slowly into the sea when we know that the rising seas are threatening the very lives and livelihoods of people and cultures and creatures all around the globe. Far from the slow pace of this resort destination, the sense of urgency to mitigate and adapt is real and palpable at the conference center itself. And the issue of Loss and Damage is ever-present and getting much-needed space on the agenda.
What is Loss and Damage? Somini Sengupta, in an article for the New York Times entitled What Do Big Polluters Owe, said, “‘Damage’ refers to the destruction of physical things like roads, homes, and bridges. It’s relatively easy to quantify.
“‘Loss refers to economic impacts: Lost work hours because of extreme heat, for instance, or lost agricultural revenues because rising sea levels flood paddy fields with salt water, or lost tourism revenues because of a hurricane. That’s harder to quantify.”
Attending an Interfaith Dialogue on Sunday evening, it was put into moral language by several leaders who have direct experience of loss and damage.
Harjeet Singh, a Sikh leader who serves as the Head of Global Political Strategy at Climate Action Network International put it this way: “The challenges people face [from climate impacts] are not of their own making. A handful of countries and companies have created the problem. We must push countries to meet their fair share…We did not push countries to reduce emissions, so now we are faced with Loss and Damage.”
He went on to say, “Fossil fuel companies are profiting from the misery of people. But leaders say there is no money for Loss and Damage.”
The U.S. needs to negotiate in good faith on the issue of Loss and Damage, and not block progress on a finance mechanism to address this heart-wrenching moral issue. When people are not only losing their homes and roads and bridges (Loss), but also their entire cultures and way of life in a place (Damage), it is the moral duty of the nations most responsible for climate pollution to provide financing so those most vulnerable can literally survive.
At the Interfaith Dialogue, a woman from Africa said it this way: “There is only so far you can adapt. Loss and Damage needs to be at the forefront. Who will bear that responsibility? It cannot be those least responsible.”
One thing that people of faith and conscience can do is to push their members of Congress to meet the U.S.’s financial commitments to the global community, including the already-existing Green Climate Fund (GCF). The U.S. made a commitment to the GCF of $11.4 billion by 2024 and has only confirmed a fraction of that amount of funding–which isn’t even meeting the U.S.’s fair share of international climate funding. Congress holds the purse strings, so this funding must be approved by Congress in order to be allocated.
As U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said in his keynote speech at the U.S. Center on Tuesday, November 8: “What will really make this happen is citizen accountability of the political process.”
I couldn’t agree more.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry