SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – A Catholic environmental organization has welcomed the inclusion of “Loss and Damage” on the agenda of the ongoing UN COP27 conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

“Loss and Damage” refers to costs already being incurred from climate change, including rising sea levels, floods, drought and hurricanes.

Climate funding has traditionally been directed towards cutting carbon dioxide emissions and helping communities adapt to future impacts.

The idea of “Loss and Damage “was mooted a decade ago, but has never found its way into the COP agenda. But in Egypt, that has changed.

Allen Ottaro, Founder and Executive Director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) says the issue has been contentious because of what Pope Francis says is a “numbing conscience” that fails to take care of the earth, and because “economic interests trump the welfare of the most vulnerable in our communities and therefore, pledges that have been made are not honored, while natural resource extraction continues to be skewed in favor of rich countries.”

Following are excerpts of the interview….

Crux: For the first time, the issue of “Loss and Damage” has been included in the COP27 agenda. Why do you think these matters?

Ottaro: In my view, while Loss and Damage has been included in the COP27 agenda, it is long overdue. The science is clear – from IPCC reports – that Africa is facing some of the most severe impacts of the climate crisis, while it is contributing least to the problem at about 4 percent of global emissions.

Every day, we witness communities impacted by drought or floods, thousands of young people trying to find a better future in Europe because their lands are no longer able to sustain agricultural activities. Communities from small island states are witnessing their homes getting submerged every other day.

It is a basic question of justice. Even if all emissions were to stop today, the amount of greenhouse gases already locked into the atmosphere will still cause serious impacts to communities that are not the cause of the problem, including future generations. Most of these communities are already reeling from poverty, and losing their culture and homes, and they need urgent support. This is why the issue of Loss and Damage needs to be addressed urgently.

Why do you think an issue that looks apparently simple has been so contentious?

I think the issue has been contentious, because of what Pope Francis refers to as a “numbing of conscience.” We have failed to “listen to the cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor.”

Economic interests trump the welfare of the most vulnerable in our communities and therefore, pledges that have been made are not honored, while natural resource extraction continues to be skewed in favor of rich countries. The global multilateral system is also flawed, allowing a few rich countries to either disregard the concerns of smaller countries, or put the interest of big industry ahead of the common good.

If richer nations agree to pay, what form should these payments take? Should it be in the form of reparations, which is what low-income countries are calling for, or loans and should it form an integral part of climate financing?

Loss and damage and climate financing cannot be in the form of loans. As I have already mentioned, the way the global multilateral institutions are set up, is to the detriment of the global south. Many countries in Africa have racked up enormous amounts of debt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current global economic situation has only made things worse. Rich nations also need to address illicit financial flows, perpetrated by multinationals headquartered in capitals of rich nations, money which would otherwise support development of developing nations.

Do you think based on current commitments that the world is on track to meeting the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit to global warming?

The latest UNEP emissions gap report put the world on a 2.8 degrees Celsius trajectory with current commitments. This means we are way off the mark, and we need urgent, radical and transformational systemic changes to ensure we can guarantee a livable planet, while enhancing the ability of vulnerable communities to build resilience to the climate impacts.

What is the reality of climate Change in your home country, Kenya, and Africa as a whole?

As we speak, many communities in the north and eastern parts of the country are relying on food aid, following prolonged droughts and failed rains. We are facing increased conflicts between farmers and pastoralists as water points and pasture become scarce.

We have seen devastating floods in South Africa with hundreds losing their lives and thousands losing livelihoods and property. Mozambique has been struck severely by cyclones, and communities have had little time to recover from the shocks.

The Sahel region is experiencing severe conflicts, many of which are attributable to natural resources and their depletion, made worse by the impacts of the climate crisis.

At the same time, about 600 million people have no access to electricity, while about 800 million have no access to clean cooking solutions. This poses a dilemma of challenges which can be transformed into opportunities, but underscores the need for investments in green and renewable energy, which is in abundance in Africa, but also addressing the socio-economic issues of green jobs or the bulk of the population in Africa, 70 percent which is under the age of 30.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.