Fossil fuel industry should pay for climate instigated loss and damages


The cost of fossil fuels goes beyond what we pay when we purchase the products.

From excavation through transportation to utilization, fossil fuels have devastating impacts on environment, human health, species and ecosystems.

Pollution, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, nasal congestion, pulmonary inflammation, acidic rain, earthquakes, pipeline explosions, hazardously abandoned infrastructure are just but a few of the impacts.

Of all the impacts, global warming is the most catastrophic, widespread and inestimably costly.

The financial and emotional cost of interring loved ones who die in global warming instigated conflicts and natural disasters or hospital bills for those injured; the cost of maintaining refugee camps for the displaced; the losses incurred when crops fail or economic downfall experienced when the number of tourists to Africa plummet; the costs incurred when we dig bore holes several meters into the ground to offset water scarcity… are all climate related.

In 2013, for example, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) killed over 6,300 people, displaced 4 million others, damaged 1 million houses and caused approximately US$2 billion in damage in Philippines.

In Kenya, the 1997 El Nino destroyed crops, roads, bridges, schools, houses and commercial buildings. Thousands of people were left homeless and livestock swept away. In November 2015, over 80 people died, several others injured and thousands displaced as El Nino rains hit a total of 9,123 households the across the country.

As climate change continues to devastate the world, especially the poor and vulnerable third world, various solutions and recommendations have been proposed, and some implemented, to ameliorate the situation: mitigation, adaptation and compensation for loss and damage.

To mitigate climate change, the world agreed in Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5oC to avoid tragic impacts.  

However, the fossil fuel industry has been working so hard, applying underhand tactics, to sabotage climate deals to continue raking in huge profits despite being clearly aware of the impacts of fossil fuels on climate.

This has prompted activists to lobby for expelling the industry from climate negotiations.

However, even if emissions are stabilized now, temperatures are still expected to increase to between 2.7–3.7oC by 2100, meaning, climate change and already occurring adverse effects will last for years.

Adaptation is therefore necessary to miimise climate change vulnerability and threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, properties, amenities, species and ecosystems.

Sadly, most developing countries cannot afford the cost of putting in place adaptation measures.

The annual adaptation costs are estimated to be between US$ 14 and 15 billion in sub-Saharan Africa and about US$ 2.5 billion in the Middle East and North Africa. But the cost projected to rise to US$50 billion per year in Africa and US$250-500 billion across all developing countries by 2050 even if global warming is limited to 2oC this century.

Nonetheless, even in the best mitigation and adaptation scenario, climate instigated loss (irreversible impacts of climate change such as deaths, extinction of species, loss of heritage) and damage (recoverable impacts of significant economic cost such as damage to property and infrastructure) are likely to remain for years.

The cost of loss and damage is high and rising.

The global cost of residual damage is estimated at US$275 trillion between 2000 and 2200 for all countries. This does not include non-economic losses though. The cost is extremely high if little or no action is taken (~US$1,240 trillion).

The estimates for residual damages by 2060 alone range from US $ 0.3 to 2.8 trillion with an average of US $ 1.2 trillion per year.

According to Africa’s Adaptation Gap Report, Africa will still suffer large residual damages (loss and damage) estimated at $100bn per year by 2050 for below 2oC and $200bn per year by 2040 for above 4oC even if all cost-effective adaptation is realized.

To adapt and deal with loss and damages associated with climate change, the poor and vulnerable countries need financial and technological support.

To assist the countries, Loss and Damage Mechanism was established to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change

Among its mandates is enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

Sadly, climate finance is inadequate. Developed countries objected to inclusion of legally binding loss and damage compensation mechanism in the Paris Agreement and instead pledged only $100 billion to a Green Climate Fund for adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

This is peanut going by the magnitude of the situation. A new source of finance is urgently needed! But we shouldn’t look any farther.

As a way of phasing out fossil fuels, after kicking the industry out of climate negotiations, we need to move to the next step: to make the perpetrators pay for adaptation, loss and damages.

The fossil fuel companies have not only contributed to climate change but also amassed huge profits in the process!

Top five oil and gas companies alone - ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips - made over $1 trillion in profits from 2002 to 2012 (and nearly $120 billion in 2012). Moreover, post-tax subsidies for oil, coal and gas producers amounted to $4.9 trillion in 2013 and are projected to reach $5.3 trillion in 2015.

The industry should either be fined or a legally binding framework should be established to make the companies finance Loss and Damage Mechanism including the cost of establishing the accurate cost of loss and damages or both.

On top of perpetrating climate change and making huge profits out of human suffering, fossil fuel companies knowingly mislead the public by hiding and manipulating crucial information and have manipulated climate negotiations despite knowing the impacts of fossil fuels on climate and human health.

Therefore it is not only legally logical but also morally right to contribute towards cleaning their mess.

We can borrow a leaf from the tobacco industry’s precedence.

In 2006, tobacco industry was declared guilty and fined $10 billion for fraudulently misleading the public about the risks and dangers of cigarette despite knowing the health implications.

Since then, stiffer laws and regulations have been enacted to regulate the industry.

Article 19 of Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) gives Parties the power to use the law to hold the tobacco industry legally and financially accountable for its abuses.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should emulate the FCTC to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damages they have created.

As individuals, we can help push the cause by launching legal cases, creating awareness through various media and reaching out to government representatives to voice the issue during the COP 22.