Limiting frontline voices in the Loss and Damage Fund is a recipe for disaster

Comment: Representatives of groups hardest-hit by the climate crisis say restrictions on their participation at the fund’s first board meeting set a worrying precedent

Youth and other civil society groups hold a protest calling for a full, funded and fair transition away from fossil fuels at the COP28 climate summit venue in Dubai, UAE on December 12, 2023. (Photo: Megan Rowling)


Isatis M. Cintron-Rodriguez is a Puerto Rican postdoctoral researcher on climate justice at Columbia University Climate School and the director of Climate Trace Puerto Rico, working on participatory climate governance. Liane Schalatek is associate director at the Heinrich Boell Stiftung Washington with expertise in UN climate funds and finance. Lien Vandamme is senior campaigner for the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law.

Imagine losing your home to catastrophic floods, your loved ones to unprecedented hurricanes, your livelihood to raging wildfires, or your ancestors’ graves to rising sea levels.  

Then, to add insult to injury, imagine losing your voice and rights in the very UN institution mandated to alleviate the costs of these climate-related harms for the hardest hit in communities such as yours.  

Technocrats talking about you, without you; decisions made – including, ironically, on participation and stakeholder engagement – while you have no meaningful say. Justice denied from the outset.   

This could be the dire reality when the new board of the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF) convenes for the first time in Abu Dhabi (UAE) next week (April 30 – May 2). Designed to provide long-awaited justice for those suffering the most from climate impacts, the fund risks failing right from the start by limiting access for those it claims to support. 

Expectations mount as loss and damage fund staggers to its feet

Those most affected by the climate crisis know all too well the losses and damages they are suffering and how to repair these harms. Their involvement in the LDF is essential not only for its effectiveness but for its legitimacy and for justice. Even more than any other, this fund needs to be driven by people, to respect their rights, and hear their voices. 

Let’s start with the basics: public participation and access to information are human rights. Accountability, transparency and participation in decision-making are the hallmarks of democratic governance – and their importance for the LDF’s ability to meet local needs and priorities cannot be overstated.  

These fundamental rights are rooted in the understanding that people should hold power over decisions that concern their lives and communities. Science and experience show that such participation also leads to more effective and sustainable outcomes. Getting participation right from the start is essential to the LDF’s legitimacy, equity, effectiveness and potential for transformative change.  

Sidelined in planning 

The LDF would not exist if it were not for the decades-long relentless calls for justice and affirmative action by communities, civil society and Indigenous Peoples, which escalated to an impossible-to-ignore volume over the last few years.  

Despite these loud calls, rightsholders’ representatives were sidelined during the fund’s planning stages last year. While a small group of countries in a Transitional Committee debated the fund’s scope and aims, civil society consistently had to put up a fight merely to be let into the room. 

And history is repeating itself. The LDF’s Governing Instrument (adopted at COP28) reinforces the need to support local communities and recognition of their participation. Yet the first board meeting limits participation to two people per UNFCCC stakeholder group – some of which represent millions, even billions, of people – such as Indigenous Peoples, youth, and women and girls.  

Such overly restrictive numbers do not allow for the representation of the diversity of voices, groups and organisations under the umbrellas of these groups, and will lead to the exclusion of critical voices. 

As donors dither, Indigenous funds seek to decolonise green finance

These limitations are in stark contrast with participation at another UN fund, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which – while it still has a long way to go to enable effective participation – does not limit board meeting observer attendance either in number or by stakeholder groups. The GCF had a significantly higher attendance than the LDF at its first meetings.  

Restricted seating in the actual room will further limit direct interaction with LDF board members making the decisions. The claimed ‘space constraints’ behind the restrictions are particularly unconvincing, coming from a country that organised the biggest climate talks in history just a few months ago.  

Climate justice requires inclusion  

The LDF has the potential to set a new precedent for climate finance – one that values human dignity and amplifies the voices of its beneficiaries. This requires more than a token dialogue with a handful of stakeholders in the first meeting; it necessitates a broad, inclusive consultation process that genuinely influences the fund’s policies.  

By explicitly endorsing the principles of inclusion, non-discrimination, transparency, access to information, empowerment, collaboration, and accountability, and proactively enabling active participation at all stages – from designing board policies and assessing community-level needs to implementation and decision-making – the LDF could live up to expectations and deliver climate justice.  

Tensions rise over who will contribute to new climate finance goal

If the Board does not explicitly and meaningfully include the diverse voices of the rightsholders who are meant to be the LDF’s main beneficiaries, the fund risks becoming another bureaucratic relic, preserving the status quo of climate injustice.  

During its first meeting next week, the board has a chance to overcome business-as-usual, as decision-makers will discuss procedures for the participation of observers and stakeholders. It must radically choose to enable and support meaningful participation by the diverse range of groups involved.  

The time to act is now. At its inaugural meeting, the board must choose to champion transformative change and genuine justice, setting a course that will define the fund’s legacy. The lives and livelihoods of far too many are on the line.


Read more on: Climate finance | Climate justice | Comment | Loss and damage | | | |