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Nepal-based civil society group Digo Bikas Institute holds an action on loss and damage during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

COP28: Bring the vulnerable to ‘front of the line’ for climate funding

COP28/Christopher Edralin
Nepal-based civil society group Digo Bikas Institute holds an action on loss and damage during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

COP28: Bring the vulnerable to ‘front of the line’ for climate funding

Climate and Environment

Advocates showcased the devastating impacts of climate upheaval on their communities at COP 28 on Monday as the focus of the world’s largest climate gathering turned to financial support for those most at risk – first and foremost youth and women in developing countries.

Among them is young Senegalese singer and rapper Oumy Gueye, who goes by OMG and was triggered to embrace climate action when her grandparents’ home in Bargny east of the Senegalese capital Dakar was destroyed by rising seas. 

She has been collaborating with UN humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA to advocate for humanitarian causes in the Sahel – one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian emergencies.

OMG is part of the ‘My Sahel’ project with five other major artists from the region. Together they released a track from which proceeds are split between the contributing artists and the OCHA-managed humanitarian fund for West and Central Africa.

Speaking to UN News, she described the predicament in which her peers back home are increasingly finding themselves. Rising temperatures and, in the case of Senegal, sea levels are destroying livelihoods and homes, driving poverty, violence and fueling migration across perilous routes. 

“Young people take the risk to travel by sea for a better situation,” she said, and some lose their lives – a tragedy for communities and for the future of their countries.

New climate action account 

The humanitarian impact of the climate crisis is under the spotlight in Dubai. As part of the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), OCHA launched a Climate Action Account at COP28 to provide an additional avenue for financing humanitarian responses to climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts, storms and extreme heat, and building resilience.

Each year, between a quarter and a third of CERF funding already goes to extreme weather-related disasters. 

UN Deputy emergency relief chief Joyce Msuya stressed the importance of ramping up this funding “as we move into a world in which climate change holds the sword of Damocles over an increasing number of people”. 

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some 3.5 billion people, nearly half of humanity, live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change.

Joyce Msuya, UN deputy emergency relief coordinato, onstage at the Accelerating Climate Action session during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
COP28/Mahmoud Khaled

Trillions in damages 

Extreme weather comes with a staggeringly high cost, as the UN weather agency WMO-led United in Science report published earlier this year showed. According to the report, between 1970 and 2021 some 12,000 reported disasters from weather, climate and water extremes caused $4.3 trillion in economic losses – most of them in developing countries. 

To support vulnerable countries in protecting themselves from the worst consequences of climate disruptions, the loss and damage fund agreed at COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh last year and operationalised on the opening day of COP 28 has been hailed as a key climate justice instrument and the first major outcome of the gathering. 

More than $650 million have reportedly been pledged so far and advocates for vulnerable communities present in Dubai have stressed the need to ensure that those most-affected benefit from the funding.

Climate-related disasters like floods, as pictured in Madagascar, can lead to a range of health problems.
© UNICEF/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

Vulnerable people ‘at the back of the line’

An increasing proportion of the over 110 million forcibly displaced people around the world are pushed to flee their homes due to weather-related hazards. 

“The voice of those displaced by this emergency must be heard, and they must be included in plans and resource allocation,” UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi wrote on social platform X.

OCHA climate team head Greg Puley told the conference’s participants on Monday that it was a “grave injustice” that people on the frontlines of the climate crisis who were least responsible for it, too often found themselves “at the back of the line” for climate funding.

Women advocates from affected communities were in the spotlight at a COP28 event organised by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN migration agency (IOM) and partners on Monday. 

Joelle Hangi from civil society organisation Global Platform for Action described the challenges she experienced while living herself in Kakuma camp as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

Living in the dark

The lack of reliable, sustained access to electricity was among the most pressing, she said, a reality faced by more than 94 per cent of displaced people – and which could be alleviated by an increased use of renewables.

“Darkness means you are not safe; you are exposed to a lot of things. I saw many people who could not seize opportunities that could change their lives only because there was no access to electricity,” she said. Ms. Hangi is currently working to change this reality for displaced people, help improve their internet connectivity and support transitions to clean cooking options.

Invest in mitigation

Speaking to UN News, COP28 participant Caroline Teti of aid organisation Give Directly based in Nairobi, which collaborates with UNHCR on refugees responses, highlighted the empowering nature of direct cash transfers to people suffering the impacts of the climate crisis. 

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She gave the example of a project in Mozambique which enabled money to be sent to communities a week before Cyclone Freddy unleashed massive floods upon the east African nation earlier this year. “They could start preparing to move out, communicate with their relatives to prepare for floods, started reinforcing their structures so they don’t get washed away,” she said.

She also described an ongoing project in Malawi where climate-vulnerable people received lump sum transfers of $800 dollars so that they could move out of at-risk areas to higher ground.

“If investments are put into climate mitigation, we can put in place cheap, fast and simple solutions that can go a long way in responding to some of the climate challenges,” she insisted.

‘Innovative humanitarianism’

The climate advocates called for a shift to “more inclusive and innovative humanitarianism” which leverages the experience of displaced people in developing solutions and helps “end the circle of dependency”.

Echoing this call, Bernhard Kowatsch, head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator, told UN News that “innovations can show a sign of hope also in the short term and prove that change is possible – even right now”. 

He said that much more investment is needed in high-impact innovations which can help mitigate the most dire consequences of climate change. 

WFP Innovation Accelerator projects which leverage private insurance to the benefit of smallholder farmers or enable them to make climate adaptation decisions based on satellite imagery and artificial intelligence are a case in point, along with microfinance loans to female farmers and entrepreneurs most affected by weather disasters and excluded from traditional funding.

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