Loss and compensation: what does that mean, what does it look like. Several eloquent women and men gave meaning to those words today. Loss and compensation are critical issues at COP21 for many of the most vulnerable people in our world. Phrases I have used in my classroom such as climate justice and finance fairness became more personal today. It hit home to me, despite my economic and physical removal from the worst climate impacts, that loss, suffering and hardship due to climate change is now a reality for many people around the world.
When I asked about his greatest concerns at COP21, the representative from the Coastal Development Partnership (CDP) stated simply, “loss and compensation for damages and forced migration.” The CDP is a progressive development and environmental activist organization in Bangladesh. My follow up question was about the highest point in Bangladesh. Knowing that Bangladesh encompasses (and was formed by) the delta of three major rivers, I was shocked when his answer was “about 1,063 meters (3488 ft) above sea level: the Chittlagonh Hills in the Southeast section of the country.” He did go on to say the entire middle section of the country is within 1 meter of sea level. He believes there must to be language in the final COP21 document that provides money for people who incur property losses due to climate change related issues (particularly storms and sea level rise) as well as compensation for forced migration.
Repeatedly, around the world, the poorest are disproportionately impacted by climate change. The great irony here is that their contribution to the problem of climate change is nearly zero. The man I met from Bangladesh believes that those causing climate change should be responsible for the cost of loss incurred by those impacted. Sounds fair to me.
Checking my phone as I wandered away from this chat, I found that Al Gore was speaking in one of the negotiator meeting halls. Heeding the advice of a friendly security guard, I headed to the hall to see if it was open to observers (I have “observer” status, which means some sessions are closed to me). As I moved closer to the hall, I encountered more and more large, very American-looking men in suits, with ear pieces and wires going down the back of their suit coats. Al Gore was in the house and so was his security! The session was open to everyone in the Blue Zone. His presentation was entitled “Impacts and Solutions to the Climate Crisis.” While he gave no specific solution(s), he was passionately optimistic. But before the optimism, he showed images of extreme storm events, focusing on flooding. He called for responsible nations (meaning, those responsible for the bulk of global carbon emissions) to financially compensate the losses of the poor due to climate change. He concluded by stating that future generations will ask one of two questions to those at COP21:
From a world of climate crisis, they will ask “what were you thinking;” or, from a world of zero carbon emissions they will ask, “how did you find the moral courage to make change?” Gore’s final message to delegates was, “Do the right thing; the right thing is to save our future planet.” I hope they do the right thing.
Next, I went to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) press conference, where they were demanding that loss and compensation be included in the final document. These women want payment for losses incurred by the poor to go directly to the people. They call it finance fairness. They also want payments to go directly to women in crisis resulting from climate change. This event was followed by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) press conference. The words of the five indigenous women speakers were powerfully moving. Three of the women were from different Native nations in the United States, another women was from the D.R. Congo, and the fifth was from Ecuador. All of the women, in their own way, reminded those at COP21 that the face of climate change is real people, real babies, real water, real food, real needs. Women are generally at the forefront of the climate crisis, and they should be compensated for resulting losses. If given the chance, small-scale solutions, often implemented by women, can have large scale impacts. They are demanding that the voice of Indigenous women be reflected in any COP21 agreement by ensuring climate justice for all. I agree.
After a full day of hearing personal stories motivating climate action, I was moved to tears upon shaking Casey Camp-Horinek’s hand at the conclusion of her moving words on loss and compensation as a component of climate justice.