People look at a damaged road in Blantyre, Malawi on March 14, 2023.

People look at a damaged road in Blantyre, Malawi on March 14, 2023.

(Photo: Joseph Mizere/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Fossil Fuel Giants Urged to 'Pay Up' After Tropical Cyclone Freddy Kills 300+

"Disasters such as these are further evidence of the injustice suffered by the nations that contribute least to the climate crisis," said one campaigner as thousands in Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar mourn.

As the death toll from Tropical Cyclone Freddy continues to rise, climate justice advocates are imploring the fossil fuel corporations most responsible for the destruction to reduce their planet-wrecking emissions, compensate victims, and fund rebuilding.

The intense and long-lasting storm—precisely the type of extreme weather event that scientists have warned is more likely due to unmitigated greenhouse gas pollution—has hammered the southern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar in recent weeks. Flooding and mudslides have killed more than 300 people, injured hundreds of others, and displaced at least 20,000 households. Ongoing rainfall has complicated burial services and rescue efforts as hundreds remain missing.

The coal, oil, and gas firms that are the primary drivers of the climate emergency "should pay up for the damage," Greenpeace argued Wednesday.

In a Wednesday statement, regional director Landry Ninteretse said, "Disasters such as these are further evidence of the injustice suffered by the nations that contribute least to the climate crisis, as they bear the brunt of the crisis by way of worsening climate impacts."

"This situation calls for the world's biggest polluters like TotalEnergies to commit to significantly lowering their greenhouse gas emissions," said Ninteretse, who specifically called on Total's French executives to abandon the company's $20 billion fracked gas project in Mozambique.

Nintereste also urged "wealthy nations and development finance institutions such as the African Development Bank to deliver climate finance to help the most affected build resilience to impacts of the climate crisis."

"We express our sympathies to the communities and partners affected by this disaster and call on humanitarian agencies to move with speed to save lives," he added.

The United Nations and its partners have ramped up emergency support this week. The agency has rescued dozens of people and delivered medical supplies, food, shelter, and other necessities. Of particular concern is shoring up water and sanitation infrastructure to prevent the further spread of cholera.

Rebecca Adda-Dontoh, U.N. resident coordinator in Malawi, said Tuesday that Freddy has "created an unprecedented crisis" in the country, where the health sector "is already overwhelmed by the worst cholera outbreak in two decades."

As Al Jazeera reported, "Malawi last year reported cases of cholera after Cyclone Anna battered the south of the country causing extensive infrastructure damage and disruption of water and sanitation systems."

Speaking in New York on Wednesday, U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that "we are mobilizing additional teams, but difficult weather conditions have hampered rescue efforts."

"This situation calls for the world's biggest polluters like TotalEnergies to commit to significantly lowering their greenhouse gas emissions."

Dujarric noted that the agency is "worried about the impact of heavy rains and flooding" in Mozambique, which is also grappling with a cholera outbreak.

"Large swaths of land are underwater, and roads are not passable—making it difficult for aid workers to carry out assessments," he added. "The immediate humanitarian impact and longer-term economic implications for Mozambique are enormous."

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Freddy may be the longest-lasting tropical cyclone in recorded history.

After developing off the coast of Australia on February 6, the cyclone crossed the entire South Indian Ocean, traveling nearly 5,000 miles before making landfall in Madagascar and Mozambique in late February. The storm then looped around and hit Mozambique again on Saturday before moving inland to Malawi. Torrential downpours, destructive winds, and storm surges have also pummeled Northeast Zimbabwe and Southeast Zambia.

"Freddy holds the record for most accumulated cyclone energy (ACE)—a measure based on a storm's wind strength over its lifetime—of any storm in the Southern Hemisphere and possibly worldwide," Al Jazeera reported. The WMO estimates that the storm has "generated about as much accumulated cyclone energy as an average full North Atlantic hurricane season."

In addition, the outlet continued, "Freddy appears to have broken the world record for the most bouts of rapid intensification, defined as an increase in wind speed of 80km (35 miles) per hour in a period of 24 hours."

As global warming causes sea levels to rise and ocean temperatures to increase, "heat energy from the water's surface is fueling stronger storms," Al Jazeera noted.

Citing the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, University of Sussex geography professor Melissa Lazenby told the outlet that "this type of extreme tropical cyclone event is not surprising due to previous predictions that cyclones will become more intense." She added that "more analysis would need to be done to deduce the reasoning behind its... longevity."

Fully aware that extracting and burning more coal, oil, and gas will exacerbate the deadly effects of the climate emergency, profit-hungry fossil fuel executives are nonetheless moving ahead with plans to expand drilling.

While COP27 delegates agreed to establish a loss and damage fund—after failing to commit to winding down the fossil fuels that are generating so much harm—previous efforts to increase climate aid from the Global North to the Global South have fallen far short of what's needed due to the stinginess of wealthy countries, especially the United States.

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