Scotland and Malawi have a long and storied history of civic friendship and international cooperation, but the dynamics of this friendship are changing now that Scotland is helping Malawi pay for the damage it has suffered as a result of climate change.
As developing countries in the Global South find themselves more vulnerable to climate-fuelled natural disasters than their developed counterparts in the Global North, despite being less at fault for the climate crisis, calls for “reparations” have grown.
Could the unique alliance between Scotland and Malawi provide an innovative blueprint for other emerging relationships founded upon the need for climate justice?
The connection between Scotland and the nation in Southeastern Africa began in the mid-1800s, when missionaries from the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland travelled to the area now known as Malawi.
Nyasaland was part of the British empire as a British protectorate from 1891 until 1964 and remains part of the Commonwealth to this day as independent Malawi. The work of the missions and the association with the empire resulted in hundreds of connections linking civic organisations between Scotland and Malawi.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership (MaSP), which officially launched in 2004, was born from the Malawi Millennium Project of the University of Strathclyde and Bell College, in order to bring together under a single umbrella the many organisations and individuals throughout Scotland that were still engaged in fostering and developing links between the two nations.
A previous CEO of MaSP, David Hope-Jones OBE, has described the relationship as a “genuinely innovative, distinctive and effective approach to international development.” Perhaps that has never been more true than now, as Scotland takes a lead navigating the turbulent political waters of loss and damage funding.
Scotland’s ground-breaking role in loss and damage funding
In the lead-up, President Chakwera of Malawi challenged Scotland to hold the Scotland-Malawi relationship up as “an example to the world of two nations approaching climate change with the sense of urgency, and in the spirit of collaboration, commensurate with the existential threat this truly is.”
Scotland met Malawi’s challenge by using the summit as an opportunity to become the first country to pledge loss and damage funding at COP26, breaking a taboo among developed nations, who had been hesitant to accept financial liability for the climate crisis.
Scotland originally announced that it would offer £2 million, but another £5 million was pledged the following year at COP27. It is worth noting that these funds were drawn from an extant £36 million climate justice fund, rather than representing additional finance commitments.
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At the time, Scotland planned to disburse the funds over three years in the form of grants, in the hope that the communities most impacted by the climate crisis would be able to have a greater say in how to use the money, allowing the process to be community-led and owned.
Where does the money go?
The El Niño system in 2015/2016, which caused record-breaking heat waves across the world, resulted in extended period of droughts that required one of the most extensive emergency relief assistance programmes in Malawi’s history.
In 2022, the country was battered incessantly by rains; Tropical Storm Ana, which made landfall in late January, was quickly followed by Tropical Cyclone Gombe in early March, both of which caused severe flooding throughout the country.
These natural disasters have affected Malawi’s economy, since the nation relies heavily on its agriculture. Growing maize, the chief crop, is estimated to account for 60% of Malawi’s land use. The 2015-6 droughts caused two successive years of crop failure, exacerbating food insecurity in an already poor nation, and the floods last year resulted in a nearly 20% decline in harvests compared to the previous year.
Of the £2 million pledged by Scotland in 2021, £500k was given as a grant in early 2022 to the the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (Sciaf), who have been using it to address the damage in Malawi caused by the tropical storms.
Sciaf identified six villages, mostly in the southern tip of the long country, where the impact was greatest.
In Malawi’s Zomba region, the money is helping to rebuild parts of a flood embankment on the Phalombe River which was breached by storms last year in 10 places.
Further south, new flood defences are being built in the village of Mambundungu. Before the tropical storms, the village had already suffered from flooding and had been relocated to higher ground in an effort to avoid it. This attempt at adaptation was to no avail, as their new village still fell victim to the torrential rains.
Part of the grant is also being used to rebuild a preschool in Ngabu, which was used as a shelter for people fleeing the rising water after their homes were carried away. Eventually, the floods reached and destroyed part of the school as well.
Ben Wilson, advocacy manager at Sciaf, says the money from the Scottish government is different from the type of humanitarian aid which follows a major disaster:
“Often that aid and those aid workers then leave because they go on to the next disaster – and there always is a next disaster. This money is coming in at a later stage when the communities have already received that immediate support. But it’s giving them what they need to build back, to build that resilience, but also to get their lives back on track.”
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In addition to the grant to Sciaf, the Scottish government allocated £1 million to a partnership with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund which is using its grant to address loss and damage across multiple continents.
The rest went to the International Centre for Climate Change and Development to research strategic loss and damage plans and to the Stockholm Environment Institute to research loss and damage principles.
What are other countries doing?
Loss and damage funding was one of the key conversations at COP27, which saw a handful of other governments join Scotland in pledging funds to assist developing countries.
In addition to these one-off pledges, a dedicated Loss and Damage Fund was created to fund the unavoidable consequences of climate change that poorer countries in the Global South face.
How exactly the Loss and Damage Fund will operate is one of the key questions that awaits answer at COP28, but it could be years before the fund itself is fully operational.
In the meantime, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada and New Zealand have committed independent funding to address loss and damage across the globe.
In September 2022, Denmark became the first UN party to commit money to loss and damage funding, pledging 100 million DKK to be divided four ways:
- 35 million DKK was allocated to the Global Shield Against Climate Risks, an initiative launched at COP27 by the G7 and V20 that improves financial protection cooperation responding to loss and damage by subsidising insurance in poorer countries.
- 32.5 million DKK was dedicated to the ministry’s partnerships with civil societies that focus on climate-related loss and damage, with a particular focus on the Sahel region in North Africa.
- 25 million DKK went to efforts to support climate change negotiations in the run up to COP27.
- The final 7.5 million DKK was left to civil society actors working to protect developing countries from the consequences of climate change, which might be considered adaptation funding rather than loss and damage funding.
Germany, Ireland, and Canada have also committed funds, €170 million, €10 million and CAD$7 million respectively, to the Global Shield initiative.
According to the UNFCCC, implementation of this fund was to begin immediately after it was launched in November 2022.
Austria committed €50 million to loss and damage funding over four years that will go to the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, which aims to improve access to technical assistance and support for developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
The funds are also expected to contribute to a programme providing early warning systems to countries prone to extreme weather, a project that is aimed at adaptation rather than addressing loss and damage.
Belgium pledged €2.5 million euros to loss and damage funding, as part of a larger package of climate-related support to Mozambique, which has suffered at the hands of many of the same natural disasters as neighbouring Malawi.
These funds will be given out from 2023 to 2028 and contribute to a portfolio of projects which will focus on capacity building for officials on Loss and Damage, Disaster Risk Reduction and research. These funds have also come under scrutiny over whether they are truly addressing loss and damage.
New Zealand also pledged NZ$20 million at COP27, which will be used in the Pacific for dignified migration, preservation of language and culture, and rebuilding livelihoods after disaster.
However, there are a few key issues with the initial pledges made at COP27 to address loss and damage.
Improving loss and damage action
The definition of loss and damage funding remains hazy. If countries follow Belgium’s, Austria’s and Denmark’s examples of contributing money in the name of avoiding or preventing loss and damages, then the funds are, in reality, being used for adaptation measures.
Loss and damage funding needs to be separate and additional to other climate finance flows.
Additionally, many of these pledges, including those from Scotland, are not an additional allocations of funds but are instead a diversion of funds that were already pledged for climate action, often under the umbrella of mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Denmark is the only country whose pledge represents a new and additional stream of financing, rather than a reshuffling and relabelling of existing climate funds.
“We cannot allow double counting of commitments whereby developed countries get credit for pledges once when they are initially made and then again when they redirect some of previous commitments towards Loss and Damage. These smokescreens are not helpful in our fight for Loss and Damage finance to meet the growing needs on the ground in vulnerable developing countries.”
This is especially concerning because, whilst not all loss and damage is avoidable, improving mitigation and adaptation measures are the only way to avert loss and damage. Diverting funds from adaptation and mitigation to loss and damage will only increase the net cost of climate change.
The L&DC has also expressed concern over the mechanisms offered by the Global Shield Initiative, describing its reliance on insurance as a mechanism of financial reparation as a “business as usual” response.
The L&DC have thrown their weight and professional opinion behind the Santiago Network as the more effective instrument for work to address loss and damage.
Although there is clearly room for improvement in the methods being used to address loss and damage by these nations, President Chakwera of Malawi says the Scottish funds are providing meaningful aid:
“It has made huge differences in the people and their livelihoods because they are given a hand up, so the resilience we talk about becomes a practical issue… This fight belongs to all of us and I believe that this example will serve as a prototype of what could happen.” (bolding added)
Whilst much of the developed world simply waits to see what the Transitional Committee will recommend at COP28 for future loss and damage funding, Scotland is taking a lead normalising a previously controversial relationship by relying on a century-old friendship.
Hopefully we will see this approach to climate justice, one that relies on trust and goodwill, applied elsewhere in nations that remain rightfully skeptical of empty promises from the Global North.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: President Chakwera of Malawi sitting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in October 2021. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.