webinar panelWebinar panel (clockwise from top left): Dr Tara Shine, Dr James Fletcher, Sabra Noordeen and Dr Payam Akhavan.

Loss and damage is a term we’re going to have to get used to. In the way that we’ve adopted “climate action” and “climate justice” into the range of eco-aware phrases, the next natural stage is “loss and damage”.

The work on loss and damage is summed up by Payam Akhavan, the legal counsel to the new Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) as “a vehicle for collective action by small island states”. Dr Akhavan explains that COSIS is “yet another instrument in the toolbox” to ensure that [loss and damage] is taken seriously. “We need to exact a cost so that major polluters radically change their behaviour”, he states.

COSIS was formed to help small island developing states (SIDS) bring legal action against carbon-emitting countries. The Commonwealth Foundation held a webinar on 15 February to discuss the next steps.

Climate Reparations: Opportunities and Obstacles for the Commonwealth’s Small Island States introduced a panel consisting of Dr Akhavan, St Lucia’s Sustainable Development Minister Dr James Fletcher and the Maldives’ first Special Envoy for Climate Change Sabra Noordeen, moderated by environmental scientist Dr Tara Shine. The webinar also included video messages from Tuvalu Prime Minister and outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Kausea Natano and current Maldives parliament speaker and former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.

View the webinar here:

#Lossanddamage, as it’s known on social media, is the next phase for assessing payments for the wider damage hitting some parts of the planet and caused by the world’s richer nations. It calls for a step beyond discussion of help after the damage caused by climate change. The Loss and Damage Collaboration suggests that the world revisit debt write-down and address climate change-related loss and damage on all areas of development, including education, health and social policies – the better to help the countries described as the “canaries” bearing the brunt of climate change.

 Climate reparations

The idea of assessing loss and damage and paying climate reparations is not new. It’s in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. By the follow-up COP26 summit in 2021, rich countries had shied away from the idea of paying for the impact of climate change, based on the level of damage caused.

However, two Commonwealth small states – Antigua & Barbuda and Tuvalu – managed to steal back some attention to the loss and damage approach at COP26. They publicised the COSIS initiative to take their case to the global law courts at the start of the COP26 proceedings, with the support of the Commonwealth Foundation.

At the follow-up February 2022 Commonwealth Foundation webinar, Tuvalu Prime Minister Natano said in his video message that COSIS would be “a platform for small island states to channel their grievances on the impact of climate change to legal bodies”.

The Maldives’ Mohamed Nasheed described debt repayment by countries repeatedly hit by climate damage as an “injustice piled on injustice [that] adds to the economic case for urgent debt relief. If there is no Maldives we cannot pay the debt back.”

St Lucia’s minister Dr Fletcher said: “When we hope that funding for loss and damage comes through, it can’t be loans that these countries will go and borrow at market rates, to deal with a problem that they did not cause.” He added: “A significant portion of those funds has to be in the form of grants because that’s the only way we can see a real compensatory mechanism put in place.”

Sabra Soordeen said that there had been a tendency for rich countries to pivot towards discussion on resilience, mitigation and adaptation. She said that the world had been “running behind” on the concept of loss and damage.

“I think the multilateral space can certainly foster empathy, but what follows afterwards is also crucial, which is what we need in terms of concrete technical and financial support,” Ms Soordeen said, adding that the global north had also experienced climate-related incidents, bringing the message of climate damage home.

Role for the Commonwealth

Mohamed Nasheed said that small island states could not change the mistakes of the past but they could follow different and more sustainable development paths, once the money is available.

Dr Akhavan said that global legal compensation rules apply to harm done by one state to another and that this should also be applied to climate damage. He pointed to “attribution science” to localise and define the sources of climate harm in order to attribute liability. He argued for a framework for litigation against “polluting states” to “tilt the balance in the interests” of SIDS.

The Q&A session turned to the role of the Commonwealth. Sabra Noordeen said that it had been one of the reasons for the Maldives rejoining the grouping. “I’m a big fan of the Commonwealth,” she said, adding that it “helps us to amplify our voices on the world stage.”

She said that the Commonwealth also provided opportunities for countries to learn from one another.


The panellists discussed how the loss and damage movement needed support at every level of negotiation over health, agriculture, education, as well as climate resilience building.

Dr Fletcher outlined an international carbon tax mechanism to feed into a loss and damage fund, making it easier for countries to access such funds, and Dr Shine spoke of ringfencing carbon funds.

The discussion looked at how a carbon tax would also act as a climate damage deterrent by making the polluters pay. They also explored the role of civil society and younger people to make loss and damage a political issue in the countries of the global north.

The panellists were aware of the pushback they can expect from rich countries if the move is not made through legal paths.

“It’s a fear of the payout to come,” summed up Dr Fletcher.

Debbie Ransome is the Web Editor for the Round Table and a member of the editorial board.

Related links

Themes and speakers at the Commonwealth Foundation webinar

The Loss and Damage collaboration

Climate justice: small island states push back – Commonwealth Foundation

Island states meet to discuss suing Global North over climate change – Open Democracy

Judicial Proceedings to Clarify International Law on Climate Change – Cambridge University, Law and Government

Caribbean countries forced to borrow to pay for climate change damage – Loop News Cayman

Island nations seek a way to sue big polluters over climate change that could leave some underwater – CBS News