Community voices are essential for a just 'loss and damage' fund

A boy stands on an entrance of his house in an area flooded by the overflowing Bagmati river following heavy rains, in Kathmandu, Nepal August 8, 2023

A boy stands on an entrance of his house in an area flooded by the overflowing Bagmati river following heavy rains, in Kathmandu, Nepal August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

As a fund to help the world’s most vulnerable moves forward at COP28, those on the frontlines need a say in how money is used

By Heather McGray, director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund.

At COP27 last year, history was made. Developing nations and island states, who for over 30 years have been calling for the creation of a fund to help pay for climate-related loss and damage, finally secured an agreement.

Over this year, efforts to hash out operating agreements for the fund – a process fraught with disagreements - have gone ahead. Only after a last-minute emergency meeting in October did the committee settle on a set of recommendations for approval at COP28.

The proposed arrangements for the new fund are by no means perfect – they have involved compromise at every corner. But for all its flaws, the recommendation includes one important thing: direct access to funding by communities.

Our work shows that is crucial – and it is effective.

In the last year, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF), has made grants to organisations working to address loss and damage at the community level in Bangladesh, Malawi, the Pacific and elsewhere. We have aimed to move money quickly, while ensuring that those most impacted have the agency to identify how funding can best meet their community’s needs.

In 2022, communities in Chikwawa district in Malawi were hit by consecutive tropical storms Ana and Gombe. Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), using funding from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF), begin looking for ways to address loss and damage caused by the storms.

CARD initially found community members unwilling to relocate away from their homes in low-lying areas, despite the risks of staying. However, after Cyclone Freddy hit in 2023, these community members volunteered to relocate and needed support to do so, which CARD provided.

Relocation is not the end of the loss and damage story. In Fiji, Narikoso village is one of the few communities that has undertaken phased relocation inland due to rising seas. However, the relocated families’ new homes are located at the top of a hill which makes accessing communal facilities challenging, particularly during wet seasons.

The community identified the need to build a footpath to allow children to travel safely to school, and for people living with disabilities to have a safe path to go back and forth. The footpath also serves as a safe and reliable evacuation route.

Examples like this show that the ongoing process of addressing loss and damage must continually be informed by community needs and supported over time.

A crucial learning from our work is the importance of participatory methods, used by our partner organisations to build trust and ensure that community members are leading the work.

Uneven impacts of loss and damage

Over the last 30 years, the number of extreme climate events has dramatically increased. A UN report reveals that climate-related disasters jumped 83%, from 3,656 events between 1980 and 1999, to 6,681 between 2000 and 2019.

Loss and damage associated with these disasters has been disproportionately shouldered by communities across the Global South, who had little role in creating the climate crisis, and have the least means to pay.

Loss and damage doesn’t only impact one part of the lives of those living in these communities. It also has cascading effects that impact community members differently. Women and men, young and old, people with varying abilities, assets, interests, and livelihoods frequently will have different needs and make different choices – for example the choice of whether or not to migrate.

Experiences of loss and damage can also evolve over time, requiring predictable and flexible funding over an extended period to help communities respond to shifting needs.

And not all communities will be equally impacted by a given climate hazard: historical injustice and lack of adaptation funding are also determinants of loss.

For the Banaban people, an autonomous group forcibly displaced to the Fijian island of Rabi by colonisers in the 1940s, the experience of loss and damage is compounded by their history. Work by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), funded by CJRF, has focused on addressing access to fresh water, as well as the creation of healing spaces for those living with grief and trauma.

COP28 – a hopeful moment

Global leaders and climate negotiators attending COP28 have an opportunity to create a fund that empowers individuals and communities to have a choice over how loss and damage impacts are addressed.

As outlined in a brief published by CJRF last month, such choice is the heart of climate justice. It also results in interventions that are more successful because they account for local context and nuanced understanding of needs.

I remain hopeful that COP28 will recognise the importance of a community-led funding. Without such an approach, the Loss and Damage Fund will risk adding to the burden of those already shouldering the heaviest consequences of the climate crisis.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Extreme weather
  • Adaptation
  • Climate policy
  • Climate inequality
  • Loss and damage
  • Climate solutions

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