The youth wants reparations, not charity or debt

What the climate crisis requires is action, not more words

In September last year, my organization YouthNet for Climate Justice, facilitated a joint oversight visit with parliamentarians and youth groups in the climate-affected areas of Bangladesh to observe the ground realities. As part of this field visit, we hosted some climate dialogues and heard the voices on the frontlines. Among many of the community people who faced the negative consequences of the climate crisis, 35-year-old Sonali Sardar was one of them -- a housewife from the Kanainagar village of Mongla in Khulna district.

“Our fishes are out. The vegetable fields are ruined by salt. We're under a lot of distress. Make a strong embankment for us, please,” she said, further adding, “we're poor, we're hungry, and thirsty. Our lives are all but gone, please take steps and supportive measures so that our children can live like human beings.”

Coastal women like Sonali are on the frontlines who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis as innocent victims. The climate crisis cannot be tackled leaving the vulnerable communities behind.

Another woman on the frontline is Misty (39), a rental boat driver in Barishal City. Like numerous people in her community, Misti’s entire life has been affected by extreme weather events. In 2007, her family’s houseboat was destroyed during the devastating cyclone Sidr, and she has since been made homeless three times. As a climate migrant, currently she's living in the Rasulpur slum. According to Misti, she migrated from Bhola to Barishal with her family to look  for a livelihood. As a negative coping strategy, her family married her off at an early age. She now has a family of her own consisting of four kids.

They are suffering from poverty, malnutrition, water, hygiene, and sanitation-related problems -- including various water-borne diseases. ‘‘We have no house, no land. Where should I go, what should I do?’’ she pleaded. One of the core elements of climate justice is reparations. When will polluters, corporations, and developed nations really listen to the voices of vulnerable people like Misty and move to deliver reparations and not just empty words on loss and damage? They are morally liable to compensate for the loss and damage caused by their already produced emissions.

My fellow SM Shahin Alom (22), a resident of Patakhali village in Satkhira's Shyamnagar -- which was inundated by salty river water during Cyclone Amphan -- has witnessed numerous cyclones in his lifetime. He is in the leading position to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and build youth-led movements to achieve climate justice in his own community. Because the loss and damage issue is a matter of survival for him and his community, they cannot adapt to regular and intensified weather events with limited adaptive capacity. “Amphan was more powerful than previous cyclones. The water in the rivers rose quickly -- something I had never seen before in my life. Despite all our efforts to save the embankment, it did not take long for it to collapse.”

The stories and testimonies mentioned have underpinned the grim picture of loss and damage and discussions have been carried out on the latest Gobeshona Global Conference 2, creating opportunities to make progress before the Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh of Egypt later in 2022.

According to the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its sixth assessment report, it is clear now that the adverse impacts of irreversible climate change have become more intensified and more frequent, which brings loss and damage to our livelihood, food security, health security, economy, shelter, culture, education, etc. Like Bangladesh, Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA) are facing the worst consequences of climate change already.

The Global North is responsible for 92% of global emissions (Source: The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 4, Issue 9, September 2020). Without listening to the science, developed nations have broken climate promises. It’s a historical responsibility and crime against humanity, biodiversity, and nature. It is their emission which has brought us this planetary crisis. So it is high time that we take action to have an effective mechanism to tackle the loss and damage caused by climate change.

Demanding these issues, millions of schoolchildren joined the global climate strike hosted by Fridays for Future (FFF) on March 25 under the theme #PeopleNotProfit. Expressing solidarity with this global movement, we organized the global climate strike simultaneously in 25 districts of our country including the capital Dhaka City. Expressing strong solidarity with the global youth movement led by Greta Thunberg, the Bangladeshi youth demanded climate justice and urged developed nations to formulate and implement a fast-track strategy for delivering loss and damage finance to climate-hit countries and provide adequate funds for adaptation on a priority basis. 

As part of this strike, school kids around the world from the FFF movement have taken the initiative to run a crowd-funding campaign aiming to raise money for the victims of climatic disasters. They will be offering their own lunch money to kickstart fundraising out of solidarity with our most vulnerable communities. The amount generated would be shared with various fund management entities to deliver them in an effective and transparent manner.

This is going to be a powerful sign from young people as it is they who are going to bear even worse adverse impacts of the climate crisis in the future. This is a challenge for the failed global leaders who fear discussing loss and damage issues for financing their part of liable compensation. 

Today, losses and damages are being faced by the poor as well as the rich countries all around the globe. Effectively addressing losses and damages caused by human-induced climate change is now an intersectional and intergenerational climate justice issue. Even though global leaders keep saying “we are in the same boat” the sad reality is that they are abandoning the most affected communities of the poorest countries.

How is this climate justice? 

We the young people will hold the global leaders accountable by fueling movements to acknowledge and accept their own responsibility in the climate crisis. We are not demanding charity or debt. Rather, our urge for paying up climate reparations is a dutiful obligation of the Global North. Developed countries owe the loss and damage finance to us without any delay. Now, delay only means death.

Sohanur Rahman is a Founding Member of the Fridays for Future Bangladesh and Executive Coordinator of the YouthNet for Climate Justice.