Global South faces 'war without bullets'

The climate emergency is a lived reality across the Global South - we must have action not words from COP27.

The outcomes of the climate emergency are akin to a war nevertheless, albeit 'a war without bullets'.

International negotiations on climate change are increasingly feeling out of touch with the reality of the crisis we are facing.

In my country of Malawi, the climate crisis is a lived reality, shaping people’s everyday lives, stifling our already precarious economy and threatening the lives and livelihoods of many of our people.

However, at the international scale, such as the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), policy decisions are taken at a snail's pace, and the priorities of many countries appear to be wildly out of line with the reality of the world our scientists depict.

Julius will virtually attend the annual conference of Scotland’s International Development Alliance in Edinburgh on 20 September 2022 and will speak on a panel about the work of this project. You can join online.


We civil society actors in the Global South understand that international diplomacy is difficult, and that decisions of such magnitude are inherently painstaking in their execution.

There is no denying that multilateral processes are preferable ways of solving world problems to international conflict, and this year has been a stark reminder of that. However, the reality is that there are already horrors of climate change playing out across the world too. 

The conflict in Ethiopia is causing mass devastation for millions of people across the country and is being exacerbated by devastating floods and droughts which are leading to increased competition over resources and changing the state of play in the conflict there.

Communities across Fiji are already abandoning their ancestral homes due to sea-level rise, which is also threatening the nation of Kiribati’s very survival.

My own country has seen particular climate impacts in recent years, with Cyclones Idai and Kenneth causing widespread destruction in 2019, only to be followed by Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe earlier this year - leaving communities to face an intensity and frequency of extreme events that they do not have the capacity to withstand. 


We countries in the Global South are not at war with the Global North, and multilateralism is preferable to conflict. Yet it can be said that the outcomes of the climate emergency are akin to a war nevertheless, albeit "a war without bullets"*.

The actions of some states are causing significant harm to other states, and it is the poorest people who are suffering the consequences.

So whilst I can understand the slow nature of international climate change negotiations, I am also compelled to call for greater urgency, and for political leaders to put their neck out and champion more meaningful action.

The outcomes of the climate emergency are akin to a war nevertheless, albeit 'a war without bullets'.

That is precisely what happened at COP26 in Scotland, with first minister Nicola Sturgeon committing on the first day of the conference to provide finance for loss and damage.

This commitment was said to “break the taboo” on doss and damage finance, a taboo which had proven highly resilient since the concept was first proposed by the Alliance of Small Island States in 1991.


Loss and Damage refers to the incurred impacts of the climate crisis, and since the signing of the UNFCCC rich nations have avoided providing finance for the issue for fear it could signal tacit liability for causing climate impacts, leading to litigation. 

The first minister’s commitment was very small compared to the need - just £2m - but it was symbolic, and had a profound impact on the negotiations, reverberating through the negotiation halls in Glasgow.

Her leadership was resoundly welcomed by Global South civil society organisations and governments and by UN Secretary General Antonio Guetteres, and many hope that her leadership will continue at COP27, helping lead to a breakthrough on the issue of loss and damage finance.

In recent weeks, working with partners, my organisation has started to implement part of this finance commitment, dedicated to supporting communities impacted by Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe in Southern Malawi.


We are working with communities in Nsanje and in Zomba to firstly identify in their own terms what they lost and what was damaged as a result of the storms.

We will then work with communities, in a participatory fashion, to identify together what solutions, funded by the Scottish Government, may help them address this Loss & Damage.

We believe wholeheartedly, as do the Scottish Government, that locally-led climate action is crucial to delivering solutions that have the greatest impact for the longest time for communities, and this is vital to a “climate justice” approach.

Crucially, the project will cover so-called “non-economic” as well as “economic” losses and damages, such as loss of heritage, loss of culture, or recovering from the emotional impact of the loss of loved ones.


This is a key component of what loss and damage is, and why this category of action goes beyond what traditional humanitarian aid offers to communities impacted by extreme weather.

Finance to address losses and damages is about helping communities recover in the long-term, helping them build back better, building in greater resilience to shocks into our solutions, and helping them transition to their post-shock reality. 

Colleagues and I are planning to attend COP27 to disseminate some of the learning from this project. In doing so, we hope to inspire other countries to follow Scotland’s lead and also pledge money for loss and damage, and to back the creation of a Loss and Damage Finance Facility under the UNFCCC.

Through our experience of implementing this “taboo breaking” money, we hope to show the tremendous impact such funding can have on the lives of real people, and to ensure that the perspective of those with lived experience of climate breakdown can shape the discourse on Loss and Damage at the global level.

This Author

Julius Ng’oma is the national coordinator for the Civil Society Network on Climate Change in Malawi (CISONECC). Malawi is a recipient of loss and damage funding from Scotland.

Julius will virtually attend the annual conference of Scotland’s International Development Alliance in Edinburgh on 20 September 2022 and will speak on a panel about the work of this project. You can join online.

The War Without Bullets was first coined by Scottish social justice campaigner, Cathy McCormack, who died on 29th August 2022.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.