Climate change - loss and damage: First Minister's speech - 11 October 2022

The First Minister's speech at the Scottish Government's hybrid conference ‘Addressing Loss and Damage: Practical Action‘, held in Edinburgh on 11 October 2022.

This document is part of a collection

Whether you’re here in person, or watching online, we’re delighted that so many of you are taking part in today’s conference.

I’m particularly grateful to the UN High Level Champions, and the Global Resilience Partnership, for helping to bring this important event together.

It’s now more than 30 years since the issue of loss and damage was first raised in international climate negotiations.

In 1991, ahead of the Rio Earth Summit, the Alliance of Small Island States called for an insurance mechanism to be included in what would later become the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They recognised – even then – that loss and damage as a result of climate change was inevitable. And they proposed, rightly, that developed nations should pay into a pool, to meet the costs that would otherwise be borne by island nations and low-lying developing states.

Unfortunately that proposal was rejected – marking the start of a campaign which continues to this day.

For more than three decades, the issue of loss and damage has been championed by governments, communities and particularly, activists across the Global South.

Yet it has continued to meet with huge resistance in the developed world.

And that’s despite the fact that the impact of the climate crisis – including the loss and damage it causes – has become ever more apparent.

The devastating recent floods in Pakistan, are a very recent example of that. They underline the injustice at the very heart of climate change – that the countries who have contributed least to it, are very often those suffering the most. 

And they should serve as a further wake-up call to developed countries. The loss and damage caused by the climate crisis is already clear. It is becoming more evident with every passing month. And it is something which we now urgently need to address.

Scotland is a relatively small country, but we determined to play our part - and to show leadership in this space.

At COP26 in Glasgow, we used our role as the venue for the summit, to support others in calling for action on this issue. We also became the first country in the world to make an explicit commitment to provide funding to address loss and damage in other nations.

Commitments that followed - from Wallonia, Denmark, and from philanthropy through the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation - showed that there is a recognition of the importance of this issue, and an appetite to address it.

At COP26 itself many people – understandably – were disappointed that countries did not agree a financial facility for loss and damage.

But the establishment of the Glasgow Dialogue process offers hope – in advance of next month’s COP 27 – of greater recognition of the need to address loss and damage.

This represents genuine – though belated – progress. And it means that before COP27 starts, those of us who share a commitment to addressing loss and damage, need to do all we can to achieve a positive outcome.

Today’s conference is one way in which we are hoping to focus minds and bring and build real momentum. 

Part of the purpose of the conference is to explore different options, and so I don’t want to pre-empt that process in my remarks. But I do want to highlight three basic principles which I think are important.

The first is that finance for loss and damage should genuinely be additional finance.

That means that countries can’t simply repackage funding which has been committed to other climate priorities.

And it also means that finance from developed countries, should not create debt for developing countries.

That sounds basic, but it is hugely important. After all, people in the global south and emerging economies are already paying the price of climate change every day. They are paying it in the loss of land, jobs, cultures, ecosystems and human lives. These losses are bad enough in themselves – they should not also lead to further indebtedness, to the developed nations who have overwhelmingly caused climate change.

Instead, developed nations should be recognising our moral responsibilities and addressing this issue.

The second principle I want to stress is that we need to make use of the full range of possible solutions and mechanisms that are available. That includes mobilising the financial sector – particularly when we look at funding to avert or minimise loss and damage.

Many funding mechanisms for loss and damage have already been identified – such as insurance, direct funding, and taxation and levies. But we need to recognise that there isn’t a single mechanism or solution that will address every type of loss and damage.  

For example, insurance may well have an important role to play in minimising loss and damage. But there are limits to this. Some impacts – such as loss of cultural heritage or loss of life – cannot be measured in purely economic terms.

And insurance can’t take account of differential impacts on specific groups – for example, the disproportionate effect of loss and damage on women. So we need to use the most appropriate financial mechanisms, depending on the specific type of loss and damage that is being addressed.

The third and final point I want to stress is that – while the discussions at COP27 are crucial – countries don’t need to wait to take action on this issue.

Last month, the Danish government made a historic commitment to address loss and damage. 

The package it announced includes funding for insurance, and to support Denmark’s strategic partnerships with civil society in the Sahel region of North Africa. These measures are relatively small, given the scale of the challenge – as are Scotland’s - but they will make a meaningful difference to the communities they support. And they mark a further milestone in developed countries’ willingness to address loss and damage.

So we need to encourage other developed countries to follow Denmark’s example. If we wait for everyone to agree on the issue of loss and damage, we will delay progress. Instead, those who are ready and willing to act, should do so now.

At the start of my remarks this morning, I mentioned the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan.  When speaking about those floods, Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, remarked that ‘the bargain made between the global north and global south is not working.’

The task for the countries that gather at COP27 is to start making good on that bargain. Further delay is not acceptable.

Like all of you – Scotland is determined to do all that we can to ensure that COP 27 represents a genuine step forward.

That’s why we are placing so much importance on building collective action though this conference.

And it’s why I’m delighted that we’re joined today by a range of representatives from government, the private sector, and civil society – with a particular focus on the Global South.

Your perspectives and expertise will be invaluable in informing our discussions – just as they will be invaluable as we present the outcomes of them next month, at COP 27 in Egypt.

So once again, I want to thank all of you for being here.

I hope all of you find that the discussions, over the next two days, are informative and productive.

And I hope they will play a part in ensuring that – more than 30 years after the issue was first raised – COP27 marks a turning point in the fight to address loss and damage.

Back to top