A Reflection on Loss and Damage for a Season of Thanksgiving

By Lucy McDermott, Young Adult Volunteer

My name is Lucy McDermott: I am the Young Adult Volunteer at OPW this year, working on the immigration and environment portfolios. A lot of my work over the past couple of weeks has centered around COP27, a large international climate summit attended by government and NGO representatives, including staffers from our office. As Thanksgiving approaches, I wrote this piece to think about the relationship between loss and damage, one of the biggest issues at COP this year, and food access. 

This season of thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to reflect on the good things God’s creation has given to us. Through the natural world, our food is a gift from God. The sweet berries and bitter greens that we eat are plucked from the plants that God has put on the Earth.  With these gifts, God sustains our lives. 

As the effects of climate change pile up, our food is becoming increasingly threatened. In Pakistan this year, higher than normal monsoon rains and glacial melt have caused massive amounts of flooding. The flooding has caused massive damage to crops, livestock, and farmland. It has destroyed informal food markets, cutting off the incomes of vendors. The situation in Pakistan is an example of the increasing intersection between climate justice and food justice. Climate change is a root cause of hunger in many parts of the world, and climate advocacy should be an important aspect of Christian work to alleviate and eradicate hunger.  

International climate negotiators use the term loss and damage to refer to impacts of climate change that cannot be prevented or adapted to. There are two elements to loss and damage. The first is losses and damages to items with monetary value that can be compensated for. In the case of food, these might include the loss of crops and livestock and damage to infrastructure and farmland that result from changes to weather patterns or climate disasters.  

Loss and damage is not limited to losses and damages that can be compensated for monetarily. The people who die from the famines caused by climate change are just as important as the crops themselves, but the crops receive more attention from international negotiators who think about climate impacts in terms of economic damages.

Impacts to biodiversity and cultural heritage are also important elements of loss and damage. For example, in many indigenous communities, food is connected to traditions based around natural cycles that are threatened by climate change. The Siletz people of Oregon time their Pacific lamprey harvest and traditional eel dance around the emergence of eel ants, but climate change affects the changing of the seasons and the eel ants’ behavior and distribution. Losses and changes to traditions like this one are not monetarily quantifiable, but these traditions and the wildlife that they depend on are still of extreme importance.  

In the final hours of COP27, negotiators agreed to establish a loss and damage fund for the first time. This agreement is a step towards a more just climate finance framework, wealthy countries whose emissions drive climate change would pay into loss and damage funds that support communities in the Global South. It is also a result of advocacy from faith groups and other civil society organizations    More work on loss and damage finance remains to be done: specific details about who will pay into and administer the new fund will be discussed at future COPs. 

As Presbyterians, our work to eradicate hunger and poverty must include climate loss and damage finance directed to vulnerable communities whose food and food-related infrastructure is most vulnerable to climate change. Our call as Christians is to hold and remember the gift of life that God values dearly but that our economic systems incentivize us to overlook. Christian understandings of loss and damage must incorporate just climate finance and a remembrance of the losses that no amount of finance can reimburse.  

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