Since the Paris Agreement, as the effects of climate change have worsened, the U.S. stance on Loss and Damage has remained the same. “Loss and Damage is an existential issue for us,” said an A.O.S.I.S. representative, the Belizean environment minister Omar Figueroa, at the most recent climate-change conference in 2019. “We need clear and predictable finance that we can access to really compensate for the loss and damage that so many of our sister nations are feeling.” U.S. representatives, however, operating under the Trump administration, continued to refuse discussions of finance, and privately underscored that doing otherwise would “push the button of a certain man in the Oval Office.”
As a proposed workaround, some developed countries, like those of the European Union, have suggested tapping the Green Climate Fund, a pool made available for developing countries to help in their mitigation and adaptation efforts. But Harjeet Singh, a senior adviser at Climate Action Network International, told me this would deplete an already underfunded stream. “Loss and damage occurs when you realize you have not done enough on mitigation and adaptation,” he says. Finance, he says, remains a paramount issue. According to some economists, losses and damages from climate change are set to amount to somewhere between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030. Currently there is no finance stream to meet those costs. “That means that money that should have gone to education, health care, infrastructure is now being diverted to emergency response and rehabilitation and reconstruction, which puts developing countries into a vicious cycle of poverty and debt,” Singh says. “Finance is something that really rich countries, particularly the U.S., have made sure that there is no progress and not even discussion on.”
On April 22, 2021, the Biden administration began a Leaders Summit on Climate — part of an attempt, after the Trump administration, to rescue the narrative of the United States’ role in combating climate change. In his opening address, the president urged nations around the world to increase their ambition to curb emissions. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about climate justice, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that while every country was feeling the effects of climate change, “some countries are experiencing much more severe impacts than others, something we must acknowledge and address.” But they made no mention of developed countries rising to the call of accountability; they made no mention of Loss and Damage.
On behalf of my Bahamas, I wish I could say that the world wasn’t so inextricably connected. It would mean that as the planet continued to warm, Bahamians like my mother, like Jacana Theoc, Tyrone Mather and Ann Wilmore, would not be at such risk of having their entire lives lacerated. In a closed system, the carbon emissions from a small island state might change the climate at a rate proportional to their size. But the systems of this world are bewilderingly open, tangled across oceans and continents and nation-states, and so the cumulative carbon footprint of every country on the planet is coming to bear down on small islands. Some of us are disappearing as the oceans rise. Some are experiencing droughts. Some are facing storms that are swinging blades we can no longer parry. My Bahamas are facing effects of climate change that we could never have caused ourselves, and crises larger than we can survive alone.
I am told that global climate conferences tend to take place at convention centers, in windowless rooms with strip lighting and air-conditioning. This means that global climate policies are negotiated in climates far more neutral than the ones they affect. But their stakes remain incredibly high. Because this year’s conference, in November in Glasgow, will be the Biden administration’s first, it has an excellent chance to raise its ambitions and finally allow a discussion about accountability to developing nations and small island states. There’s no other way to achieve climate justice, and no other way our countries can survive.
Bernard Ferguson is a Bahamian poet and essayist currently working on a book about climate change and small island states. Melissa Alcena is a Bahamian portrait and documentary photographer based in Nassau. Her work focuses on shifting the paradise narrative of the Caribbean.