With a day of action and an open letter to the White House and congressional leaders, youth campaigners on Sunday urged the U.S. government to take steps to address “loss and damage,” or severe climate impacts, in developing countries.
The efforts were coordinated by members of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition (LDYC), a new international alliance of young people.
“The current extent of climate change impacts result from the past climate injustice that the world designed,” said LDYC co-founder and co-director Ineza Umuhoza Grace of Rwanda. “We are a generation that doesn’t want only to blame; we want to influence concrete change on the political, community, and society level.”
Fellow co-founder and co-director Sadie DeCoste, of Canada and the U.K., explained that the coalition is asking the U.S. government to break from its historical pattern of blocking action and finance on loss and damage, and instead provide support for developing countries and communities already experiencing it.
The coalition’s letter has been signed by at least 45 other groups and 91 individuals.
“The climate crisis is already causing severe impacts, leading to the loss of lives and livelihoods, and damage to homes, schools, roads, and hospitals,” the letter says. “This loss and damage is occurring around the world, but disproportionately affects those who did the least to cause it—vulnerable people, communities, and countries in the Global South.”
“In 2020, we saw some of the most severe climate impacts on record,” the letter notes, highlighting destructive tropical cyclones, severe wildfires, flooding, and extreme weather events. “Researchers have warned that storms, floods, and other extreme weather events will continue hitting the planet more frequently.”
The letter argues that “in the face of these issues, we need to protect people’s rights to live in a safe climate, to meet their basic needs, and to migrate freely and safely when they want or need to,” then calls out governments across the globe for “ignoring the scale of the problem.”
Loss and damage has its own article in the 2015 Paris agreement and its own mechanism in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but it “still does not have its own dedicated stream of climate finance,” the letter explains. “Developed countries, who fueled the climate crisis through decades of willful negligence and inaction, have done very little to help the billions of people in developing countries who suffer the effects of loss and damage.”
The United States, with its unparalleled overall contribution to the climate emergency, is especially failing on this front, according to the coalition.
“Despite its outsize contribution to the climate crisis, the U.S. government has historically blocked the provision of finance and support for developing countries experiencing loss and damage from climate change,” the letter says. “The U.S. government’s inaction and blocking continues to cause harm to poor and oppressed peoples around the world. A lack of finance for loss and damage also endangers the future of young people and future generations.”
However, the new administration “has the potential to mitigate some of this harm—if it is willing to step up and provide finance and support for loss and damage in developing nations,” the letter adds. “It must also use its position as a global superpower to influence other wealthy nations to do the same.”
The letter—addressed to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—contains five demands:
- Honor the rights of young people and future generations by prioritizing action on loss and damage;
- Champion the establishment of a new window of additional finance for loss and damage:
- Make a substantial commitment of climate finance to the above-mentioned loss and damage finance window. This should start with a commitment of $10 billion and increase annually according to the US’ fair share of global loss and damage finance need;
- Commit to making loss and damage decision-making inclusive by including youth and other oppressed peoples in policymaking; and
- Meet with youth from the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition to discuss how the U.S., and other developed countries, will take action and provide finance for loss and damage.
“Strengthening international cooperation and expertise in order to understand and reduce loss and damage must be a priority to the United States government,” said coalition member Doménica Jaramillo of Ecuador. “Tackling loss and damage will require a human rights-centered approach that promotes justice and equity.”
U.S.-based youth campaigner Alexandria Villaseñor tweeted support for the demands:
“It is high time that developed countries pay their debt by elevating their ambition to thwart loss and damage,” declared LDYS member Kervelle Baird of Trinidad and Tobago. “The United States of America can enhance its leadership in our changing world by exemplifying action on this neglected cost of climate change as it rolls out renewed policies to meet its goals for reformation.”