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UUSC Convenes Pathbreaking Meeting to Address Climate Change’s Hidden Toll

Pacific Rising brought together partners to decide how to address the intangible costs of climate destruction.

By Josh Leach on June 26, 2024

If you had to leave your home and uproot your life, due to climate chaos, what would you lose? Maybe savings, personal belongings, or equity in your home—all things that are difficult to replace, but which at least have a precise dollar value. But what about the other costs to your life that such disruption would exact? What about the community and neighborhood ties you would lose—or the impact on your own mental health? These costs of climate destruction may be harder to quantify—but they are just as real. 

This summer, UUSC had a unique opportunity to help address these hidden costs of the climate crisis. Thanks to a generous grant from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund to advance the work of our partners, UUSC has earmarked more than $900,000 of funding for three years to address what’s known as “non-economic loss and damage” from climate change (i.e., the intangible human costs of climate disruption discussed above). 

Once this opportunity came to us, we soon realized: Here was a chance to put a participatory grantmaking model into practice—convening our partners so that the most impacted communities could decide for themselves how these resources should be spent. We therefore hosted a mutiday convening in Fiji called Pacific Rising that brought together nine of our partners from across the diverse Pacific regions of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. These partners included: 

Over the course of three days, our partners developed their strategy for addressing non-economic loss and damage from climate change, while reaching groundbreaking decisions about how to equitably share the grant funds to advance their work. 

What is Non-Economic Loss and Damage? 

For a long time, conversations about global climate funding were limited only to mitigation (i.e., helping communities transition to cleaner energy sources to slow the pace of climate change) and adaptation (i.e., protecting communities from the looming effects of climate change). This way of framing the conversation made sense so long as the climate crisis could still be discussed only in the future tense. Once extreme weather, rising global temperatures, and other grave climate impacts started to be felt around the globe, however, the need became clear for a broader discussion. 

Today, billions of people around the world already suffer under climate impacts—with the burden falling hardest on Indigenous and big-ocean Pacific states that have done the least to contribute to the problem. It has therefore become clear that climate change cannot be discussed merely as a future problem that we must prepare for or prevent. Since it is already upon us, international climate financing mechanisms also need to compensate communities for the loss of resources and damage to their society that the climate crisis has already inflicted. 

In recent years, the global community has made progress toward recognizing the importance of rectifying this loss and damage, in addition to assisting with mitigation and adaptation. But all too often, this discussion is limited to the strictly tangible and quantifiable “assets” that are lost or damaged due to climate change. The concept of “non-economic loss and damage” seeks to broaden the conversation to include the full range of impacts—including loss of Indigenous culture, language, religion, traditional knowledge, ecological integrity, and mental wellness—that communities are already experiencing, as the world endures this crisis. 

Participatory Grantmaking in Action

When UUSC received generous support to address these non-economic aspects of the climate crisis’s toll, we decided that its intended beneficiaries should be the ones to decide how it should be spent. By doing so, we sought to put into practice a funding concept known as “participatory grantmaking.” 

In recent years, “participatory grantmaking” has become something of a buzzword among global funders. In basic terms, it refers to the idea that the communities most affected by human rights violations—i.e., the intended beneficiaries of human rights grants—should be the ones who make the vital decisions about how that funding is used. Instead of outsourcing this decision-making in a top-down way to agency staff in the Global North, the “participatory” model ensures that the people who are closest to the problem have the greatest say in how to solve it. 

As trendy as the “participatory grantmaking” concept has become among philanthropists, however, it is often a phrase more talked about than implemented. UUSC has sought to change this by actually putting it into practice. UUSC’s partnership model has always been anchored in the knowledge that directly-affected communities are the ones best positioned to advance solutions—because they have the most at stake and have the most insight into the challenges they face. It was simply the next logical step from recognizing this truth to embracing a genuinely participatory model of funding. 

What Pacific Rising Accomplished

With this participatory framework in place, our partners in Fiji made bold and forward-looking decisions to address non-economic loss and damage. These included: 

  • The partners will distribute the full amount—more than $900,000 in grant funds—in equal installments over the next three years. 
  • The attending partners overwhelmingly agreed to share the funding equally among their organizations, recognizing the core value of equity that must be honored in addressing climate injustice. This means that each partner organization that attended the convening will receive $34,000 each year for the next three years. 
  • They also decided to distribute the funds as general operating support—as opposed to project-specific grants—for each organization. This ensures they will be able to respond nimbly to the developing needs of their communities, rather than being boxed into a rigid plan that may not account for events on the ground. 

The Pacific is an incredibly vast and diverse region, and our partners came from all three major areas of this enormous stretch of the Earth’s surface: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. As a result, it’s safe to say that the Pacific Rising attendees did not all share the same cultural background. Nor were they all confronting the same climate effects, as the immediate costs of the climate crisis are taking different forms across the region. 

Nevertheless, our partners showed a strong desire to learn from one another across their geographic and cultural diversity and to support each other’s work. Their willingness to share the funding equally and to engage with one another in a spirit of learning reflected a deep sense of mutual trust and good faith. This model of radical trust is one that UUSC tried to learn from and implement as well in the way we administered these funds. 

Visualizing Our Impact 

Convening our partners for these vital discussions helped us see the impact of our work in real terms. The UUSC partners who attended the meeting spoke powerfully of the effect these funds will have on their ability to achieve their goals. Hensllyn Pwe’a-Boseto of the Ecological Solutions Foundation in the Solomon Islands, for instance, observed that “UUSC support means that we are able to reach out to rural communities who are facing […] climate forced displacement, communities whose water resources have been very limited[.]” She described how the funds will enable her organization to advance its advocacy work and to collaborate in closer partnership with people with disabilities who are impacted by climate change.  

Joseph Sikulu of the Pacific Climate Warriors similarly reported that, for his organization, “UUSC support has meant we can do so many things. The first time we came into contact with UUSC we were trying to get a bunch of young people to Bonn for COP23 and we weren’t sure how we were going to do that. Ever since that point, UUSC has continually worked with us to help build our advocacy and policy work, and without them it wouldn’t be as strong as it is today.” 

At the convening, our partners further described the work they will advance through these funds: including citizen research into gender-based climate impacts and the intersections of the climate crisis with other forms of oppression. They will be looking at the ways the burden of climate damage falls inequitably on women, LGBTQI+ folks, elders, youth, and people living with disabilities. Moreover, they will gather this data respectfully—i.e., in non-extractive, non-transactional ways—exploring new research methodologies for how to do so along the way. 

As urgent and vital as this work is, moreover, the decision-making process we used to reach this strategy was itself part of the impact UUSC seeks to have in the world. When we say that Indigenous sovereignty is a climate solution, we mean that the world’s directly-affected Indigenous communities—including in the Pacific—must be the ones to decide for themselves how to allocate resources to address the climate crisis. Amplifying their voices and ability to wield decision-making power helps the entire globe weather this crisis, because they are the ones with the traditional knowledge and skills to address it

By promoting the ability of these communities to make their own funding decisions, therefore, our convening in Fiji was itself a key part of the impact we seek to have. You can help UUSC pursue this work by signing up for regular updates from our email list. You can also support us with a donation. A contribution in any amount helps us backstop our partners as they advance climate solutions worldwide.

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