Report calls for polluters to pay for climate change loss and damage after KZN flooding

The floods caused major infrastructure damage and loss of life. File Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers

The floods caused major infrastructure damage and loss of life. File Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 28, 2024


The Centre for Environmental Justice (CER), last week, released a comprehensive report examining the catastrophic flooding that ravaged KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in April 2022.

Highlighting the grim reality of climate change, the report underscores the urgent need for action and accountability in the face of escalating environmental crises.

The 2022 KZN floods, triggered by an unprecedented weather event, dumped over 300mm of rainfall in under 24 hours along South Africa's eastern coast. The report attributes this extreme event to a weather system known as a cut-off low, exacerbated by low winds and high moisture content from the Indian Ocean.

These floods, compounded by factors like urban development and inadequate infrastructure, wreaked havoc on vulnerable communities, resulting in widespread devastation and loss of life.

Drawing on insights from the World Weather Attribution (WWA), the report sheds light on the alarming frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters, with 71% of events exacerbated by global warming.

Specifically examining the KZN floods, which inflicted economic losses exceeding R17 billion, the CER implores the urgent need of policymakers to address climate change and its disproportionate impact on marginalised communities.

The report advocates for legal action against major greenhouse gas emitters, particularly those in developed countries, who have historically contributed to climate change. By leveraging South African law, affected communities may seek compensation and restitution from these polluters, holding them accountable for their role in exacerbating climate-related disasters.

Michelle Sithole, attorney at CER explained that currently, “the state is having to foot much of the bill for loss and damage from the Durban flood and other similar events. Many vulnerable people and communities have their lives devastated, with no avenue for compensation.”

“This report is intended to join the dots between harmful emissions and impacts on the ground, and it is promising that our legal system is potentially able to facilitate claims for climate loss and damage,” she said.

The report also underscores Durban's resilience in the face of climate adversity, highlighting initiatives like the Community Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (CEBA) and the Transformative Riverine Management Programme (TRMP).

These projects not only enhance climate resilience but also create socio-economic opportunities for vulnerable communities, showcasing the city's commitment to sustainable development.

The report goes on to explain how South African law could potentially be used to “institute a claim for compensation for losses and damages against entities such as the carbon majors. It finds that while there are challenging aspects to winning such a case, litigation like this is a viable proposition.”

“Both legal advocacy and litigation will strengthen climate justice in many regards, support vulnerable communities and help get the necessary money from where it is to where it needs to be.”