Published December 18, 2023
By Aubrey Manahan, Campaigner for CIEL’s People, Land & Resources Program.
This month, during the United Nations Climate Summit COP28 in Dubai, Parties finalized the creation of a Loss and Damage Fund aimed at addressing climate-related harms endured by vulnerable communities and countries. While this achievement follows decades of advocacy by communities and civil society organizations, the adopted fund does not adequately prioritize climate justice. Regrettably, it will do little to repair and remedy the widespread human rights violations communities are suffering from decades of climate inaction.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) does not explicitly recognize access to remedy for human rights violations linked to climate change, and even proclaims explicitly that loss and damage finance is not about compensation. For years, developed countries have sought to avoid responsibility by circumventing their obligations through a variety of tactics. But it is essential to emphasize that the removal of human rights references from the text of the Loss and Damage Fund, as they did in the COP28 outcomes, does not absolve them of these obligations.
In the lead up to COP28, wealthy countries pushed through a flawed structure for the fund, initially placing it under the stewardship of the World Bank on the premise of urgently channeling funds to affected communities. Despite their proclaimed intentions, they then failed to deliver the hundreds of billions needed, instead promising mere millions.
In addition, proponents of hosting the fund at the World Bank have ignored its poor track record on transparency, community engagement, accountability, Indigenous Rights, and proper environmental and social governance.
The decision for the World Bank to manage the Loss and Damage Fund coincides with a pivotal time for the World Bank Group, as it grapples with its own accountability crisis. The bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is poised to approve its first remedial action and responsible exit framework, following decades of advocacy by communities and civil society organizations demanding justice. However, this framework falls significantly short of ensuring adequate remedy for harms.
The World Bank is mandated to finance development projects and policies to eliminate poverty and foster shared prosperity. However, many projects funded by the World Bank have not only failed to benefit local communities but have actually caused harm to people and the environment. Over the years, the bank’s inability to meet its goals without harming communities has necessitated the creation of environmental and social safeguards, as well as avenues for communities to hold the bank accountable, including its independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs). The creation of these safeguards is in no small part due to the efforts of CIEL and partners over the years.
Despite these safeguards, the World Bank Group has consistently proven to be ill-equipped to deliver remedy for harmed communities by failing to comply with its own policies and ignoring the recommendations from its IAMs. As a result, the World Bank has continued to absolve itself of any responsibility while affected communities have all too often been left with nothing but devastation after losing their land, homes, livelihoods, and cultural and community foundations.
For decades, communities, civil society advocates, and human rights experts have urged the World Bank to improve its practices and its IAMs to uphold international human rights law. Earlier this year, the IFC finally released a proposed approach for remedy and responsible exit, which, unfortunately, failed to acknowledge the bank’s responsibility to contribute to remedy and lacked any direct commitment to providing remedy. It also failed to mention human rights or the involvement of affected communities in determining what remedy should look like.
While the World Bank has fallen short on providing remedy, even private banks such as Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) have now committed to remedial action when their investments have caused harm. The time has come for the World Bank—the largest public bank with a mission to benefit communities—to live up to its mandate and align itself with international human rights law and the global shift toward accountability and remedy.
The World Bank should not continue to operate without accountability and remedy, especially now that it has been given additional roles such as hosting the Loss and Damage Fund. What is more, the severe limitations of the environmental and social policies, their unsuccessful implementation, and the lack of accountability at the Bank also demonstrate the need for the Fund to have its own policies which will supersede the Bank’s policies in cases of contradiction. The final decision for hosting the Loss and Damage Fund still depends on the Bank meeting and assuring these and other conditions are met.
The World Bank could show that it is finally taking its responsibility to provide remedy seriously by doing both in 2024: approving an effective remedy framework for the IFC and operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund according to conditions set at COP28.
Without it, the bank cannot possibly guarantee remedy.
As the bank leadership finalizes the remedy framework for approval by the Board, it must include a commitment from the IFC to directly contribute to remedy when it has contributed to harm. The framework should also provide concrete details of how the provision of remedy will be implemented under and ensure a transparent process that prioritizes and involves affected communities while upholding recommendations from the World Bank’s own accountability mechanisms in instances where harm has occurred.
CIEL and our partners will continue advocating to urge the bank to align its new remedy framework with its obligations under international human rights law. All eyes should be on the World Bank to ensure it is finally up to the task.