Scotland makes historic first ‘loss and damage’ payment to climate change-stricken Malawi

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Scotland has become the first nation to provide ‘loss and damage’ funding having pledged a total of £7 million to date. The decision comes after an agreement between 200 nations at last year’s COP27 summit to give financial help to developing nations most impacted by climate change. Differing from immediate emergency aid, the money is intended to rebuild resilient communities which have been devastated by climate disasters.

Scotland has already provided hundreds of thousands of pounds from a £2 million pot to Malawi, with the money being used to build resilience in the most vulnerable communities, and have pledged a further £5 million to similar projects from April 2023.

The ‘loss and damage’ breakthrough

November 2022’s COP27 summit, while criticised by many climate activists for not producing radical enough agreements, is credited with at least one big win for climate justice. That victory is the recognition of the concept of loss and damage and the agreement between 200 nations to compensate those who have fallen foul to climate disasters. While money has long been funnelled towards methods of mitigation such as preparing vulnerable nations for higher temperatures and rising sea levels, little has been done to compensate communities who have already lost everything to climate change. This is why the agreement among wealthy nations to compensate poorer nations for loss and damage is hailed as ‘historic’.

The agreement to deliver money to those affected areas is not only financially important, it is symbolic of an acceptance of the fact that developed nations are disproportionately responsible for the damage caused by climate change. While it appears that these payments amount to reparations, actually using the term makes developed nations uneasy and is perhaps too direct of an acceptance of guilt. They prefer, regardless of the reality, to frame these more as solidarity payments.

A popular – and valid – criticism of international organisations and agreements is their tendency to make promises without any meaningful follow-up action, or as Greta Thunberg put it:

“we have now had thirty years of blah blah blah, and where has that led us?”

The first nation that has stopped talking and started acting with respect to loss and damage payments is Scotland, who have pledged a total of £7 million in funding. The first nation to receive funding is Malawi, a country that has suffered greatly from the effects of climate change.

Climate change is devastating Malawian communities

One of the great injustices of climate change is the disproportionate damage caused to developing nations. Despite carbon footprints that often pale in comparison to their developed counterparts, such nations tend to be warmer and drier, and therefore more susceptible to climate disasters with less money available to combat the fast-growing issue. One such example is the south African nation of Malawi. Malawi is particularly prone to long periods of drought and devastating floods.

In 2015 flooding hit the Malawian village of Mambundungu – a recurring problem for those living in the area. Village Chief Isaac Mambundungu looked around him and saw homes submerged, children being swept away, and reported that:

“Even the crocodiles that are found in the river would come and attack the people. So when we saw this, we decided to move to higher grounds.”

So villagers rebuilt elsewhere, with less fertile land available for crops, and tried to defend their new homes as best they could with what resources they had available, but more flooding came and the new location suffered a similar fate. This is a story repeated across the nation in which 80% of people live and work off of the land.

Scotland pays loss and damage reparations to climate change-stricken Malawi

The Scottish government, led by a left-wing Scottish National Party and Green Party coalition, has dedicated funding to a mixture of projects across the country. A large proportion is going towards rebuilding villages across Malawi such as Mambundungu. Elsewhere, around £500,000 has been dedicated solely to rebuilding the Mphatso preschool in Ngabu, which was partially destroyed by flooding in 2022. In addition, seven-kilometres of flood embankments are being rebuilt along the Phalombe River. Money is also being used to build flood defences around the Mbenje cemetery, where floods frequently wash away graves and those buried within them. Residents of Mbenje tell that this is a relatively new problem, and one which they have faced with much distress. Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera commented:

“It has made huge differences in the people and their livelihoods because they are given a hand up, so the resilience we talk about becomes a practical issue.”

And emphasised:

“Describing the money as aid is wrong, it should instead be seen as countries taking responsibility for climate change together.”

But how is this any different to aid which is already provided by NGOs? Ben Wilson, a representative of one of the charities chosen by the Scottish government to deliver the allocated funds, stated:

“Often that aid and those aid workers then leave because they go on to the next disaster – and there always is a next disaster. This money is coming in at a later stage when the communities have already received that immediate support. But it’s giving them what they need to build back, to build that resilience, but also to get their lives back on track.”

Loss and damage funding is long overdue

But this should not be perceived as an act of benevolence. Regardless of hesitance from developed nations to frame the loss and damage agreement as a vessel for reparations, that is what it is. Scotland, along with the rest of Britain, was at the forefront of the industrial revolution. They set the ball rolling which led us to where we are now, and profited greatly in the process. The industrial revolution is also intrinsically linked to colonialism, a practice which ravaged much of what is now the developing world and left it ill-prepared for the challenges it faces today. So it is only right that these payments be made, and crucial that other developed nations follow suit.

 

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