Ireland must show leadership on loss and damage caused by climate crisis

Cop27 climate talks currently underway in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, must finally agree to set up a new financing facility to address impact on poorest nations

In 2022 climate disasters have taken on a new scale and horror. Four seasons without rainfall have left a “biblical” drought and unprecedented hunger across Eastern Africa. More than one in nine people are at risk of starvation in the region – more than four times the population of Ireland. Nearly 55 per cent of Somali children are acutely or severely malnourished.

Devastating floods in Pakistan have put one third of the country underwater and 33 million lost their homes. A country that has contributed less than 1 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

The increasing extremity and intensity of climate disasters this year provide just a hint of the climate chaos that is to come as our planet continues to heat up, and disrupted weather patterns become more extreme and destructive. Studies suggest that if the planet continues to heat up at its current rate of warming, 167 million homes could be lost to climate disasters between now and 2040. This would be the equivalent of losing nearly 23,000 homes per day, every day, to climate impacts, for 20 years.

Loss and damage is now a reality. Climate change is bringing hunger, poverty, terror, exhaustion and grief to millions.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed what communities on the front lines of the climate crisis already know: that it is those in the Global South – the women, the people living in poverty, the most marginalised families – who disproportionally suffer the worst effects. The effects of climate change are escalating far more quickly than climate science had predicted.

A new report by ActionAid published in advance of the Cop27 negotiations, reveals the long-term extent of climate disasters on women and girls as vulnerable countries with no access to loss and damage funding are pushed further into debt. Women and girls are even more affected by climate disasters than previously recognised in UN climate discussions with their lives being affected for years, decades and even generations to come.

Across the Global South nearly half of the agricultural workforce are women, and in sub-Saharan Africa the number is far greater. This means women’s livelihoods and food security are particularly vulnerable to climate change crises.

Women are several times more likely to die from climate disasters than men, and the greater the gender and economic inequality, the greater the disparity. Some 80 per cent of people displaced by climate disasters are women. When water sources dry up, women and girls must walk further to fetch water. When crop failure reduces family income, women tend to skip meals more than men.

Girls are pulled out of schooling before their brothers either to save on school fees or to send them to fetch water, setting them on an unequal path for life. They may be married off at an early age, depriving them of schooling and exposing them to gender based violence. When climate change leaves families hungry, women report higher incidences of domestic violence.

In the aftermath of disasters, when national budgets are severely strained, they are affected more by reductions in public service provision such as education and healthcare, and public sector job cuts. These cuts also mean women and girls are expected to fill the gap in care provision.

Despite commitments from developed countries to provide $100bn per year in climate finance from 2020 onwards – an already insufficient and under-resourced target – there is currently no international mechanism to provide real climate finance to help countries address climate-induced loss and damage, so that they can recover, rebuild or even relocate after they have suffered from the impact of disasters or slow-onset events.

Cop27 climate talks currently under way in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, must finally agree to set up a new financing facility to address loss and damage.

Addressing loss and damage is a different and longer-term type of intervention than humanitarian relief, which focuses on providing much-needed food, cash relief and shelter in the immediate aftermath of disasters. The costs are far greater and must be additional and in the form of grants, not loans, to avoid even further crushing debt.

Wealthy developed countries, including the EU, who have contributed the most emissions to a warming planet, have consistently blocked progress on the issue of loss and damage financing for decades. Pressure is steadily growing. In September 2022, Denmark became the first nation to pledge a contribution towards loss and damage finance, following similar announcements by the regional governments of Scotland (UK) and Wallonia (Belgium).

At Cop27, Ireland must show leadership in supporting – and funding – a new loss and damage financing facility. In his statement to Cop27, Taoiseach Micheál Martin displayed a welcome renewal of Ireland’s commitment to climate change and recognised the critical issue of loss and damage. However, the Global Shield, which Ireland has committed €10 million to supporting, essentially relating to insurance and subsidies from Northern governments to Northern-owned insurance corporations, shouldn’t be mistaken for a loss and damage financing facility designed to channel funds to communities on the front lines.

Funding to address loss and damage cannot only help address the cost of rebuilding infrastructure and economies, but also allows people to recover more quickly and find a pathway out of poverty through the provision of human rights, public services and social protection.

It must be provided in a way that makes a real difference to women’s rights, ensuring women can access funds, creating space for women’s leadership, addressing women’s disproportionate care burden, and promoting social protection and gender-based violence policies and quality public services.

It must also be backed by real political leadership and systemic and structural change across Ireland and globally. Automatic debt relief should be granted to developing countries immediately following climate disasters and austerity measures challenged.

Ireland has to address its own emissions. According to the EPA, Ireland’s emissions rose in 2021 by 4.7 per cent compared to 2020, and by 1 per cent on pre-pandemic figures. This is completely untenable as we watch the climate crisis unfold.

Of course, Ireland isn’t solely responsible for the climate crisis. The extractive global economic systems based on growth and consumption needs to be addressed more broadly than any single countries mitigation strategies.

The climate crisis is getting worse, and we need to be prepared for what is to come. Because if we do not address this crisis together, we will not address it at all.

Karol Balfe is CEO of Action Aid.