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Big Polluters, Pay Up

As the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations suffer huge losses from climate change, the entities most responsible for the problem – the so-called "Big Polluters" – continue to reap billions in profits. This has to change.

JAKARTA – Earlier this year in Myanmar, torrential rain caused mudslides that wiped out hundreds of houses and caused large-scale crop destruction. More than 1.3 million people were affected, and over 100 died. In Vietnam, the same deluges caused toxic slurry pits from coal mines to overflow and run through villages, and into the World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay; the death toll was 17. As such weather events become increasingly frequent and intense, the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change is becoming more urgent than ever.

And make no mistake: These events are, at least partly, the result of climate change. As the climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research points out, nowadays, “[a]ll weather events are affected by climate change, because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

International climate negotiators recognize this, to some extent. The effects faced by the people of Myanmar and Vietnam are considered unavoidable costs of failing to adapt to climate change, which officials classify as “loss and damage.” But such language fails to capture the full scale of the consequences – especially their impact on human lives. The people who died in Myanmar and Vietnam are not just “unavoidable costs,” and their loved ones cannot simply “adapt” to losing them.

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