‘Loss and Damage’ is officially on the agenda as COP27 kicks off in Egypt

After a years-long push by the global South, the UN climate conference will discuss funding for loss and damage related to the climate crisis. Over a 100 heads of state are set to address the summit being held in the wake of severe climate disasters from Pakistan to Somalia

November 07, 2022 by Tanupriya Singh
The 27th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Egypt. Photo: Cop27/Twitter

Over 45,000 people from 196 countries, including 120 heads of state, are gathering in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt as the 27th iteration of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27, began on Sunday, November 6.

“We are gathering this year at a time when global climate action is at a watershed moment,” stated Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister and COP27 President Sameh Shoukry, as the country took over leadership of the summit from the UK.

“Multilateralism is being challenged by geopolitics, spiraling prices, and growing financial crises, while several countries battered by the pandemic have barely recovered, and severe and depleting climate change-induced disasters are becoming more frequent.”

The two-week long conference had a delayed start amid negotiations over its agenda which stretched onto Sunday morning.

However, a key outcome is that for the first time in its history, the COP will address Loss and Damage finance: “Matters relating to funding arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including a focus on addressing loss and damage,” has been included under point 8(f) of the agenda.

This was following a proposal presented on behalf of the G77+China by Pakistan, which is recovering from devastating floods which killed over 1,700 people and submerged one-third of its territory.

For decades now, vulnerable countries have been demanding reparations from the global North to address the historical and ongoing harms of colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism that have placed much of the global South at the frontlines of the climate crisis.

A group of 16 countries led by Vanuatu are also in the process of seeking an “advisory opinion” from the International Court of Justice on the legal obligations of all countries for prevention and redressal of the adverse effects of the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, the Global North has consistently restricted any efforts to address Loss and Damage in any meaningful way. Existing frameworks on the issue have focused on “cooperation and facilitation” on “enhancing knowledge, coherence, action and support”.

Areas of “cooperation and facilitation” under the Paris Agreement included emergency preparedness, slow onset events, non-economic losses, and the resilience of communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems.

There has been no mention of financing.

At COP26, a demand to set up a fund for Loss and Damage was blocked by the US and the European Union and ultimately diluted to a decision to have a “dialogue” on “arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage.”

Before this dialogue has even begun, the global North has yet again undercut its potential outcome, to shield itself from accountability— Shoukry clarified during the opening ceremony that outcomes of the discussions would be based on “cooperation and facilitation and do not involve liability or compensation.”

It would also “launch a process with a view to adopting a conclusive decision no later than 2024.”

Not only has the Global North refused to commit to Loss and Damage compensation, it has not even fulfilled existing funding targets set under international agreements.

Manipulation and gaps in climate financing

In 2009, wealthy countries agreed to provide financing worth $100 billion per year until 2020 to help vulnerable countries respond to climate change. This target has been missed consistently. Not only that, analysis has found that responsible countries have intentionally used misleading accounting to misrepresent climate finances – inflating their contributions to vulnerable countries by up to 225%.

The report figure of public climate finance provided in 2020 was $68.3 billion, alongside another $15 billion in private finance and export credits, already far short of the promised $100 billion. Oxfam has found that the “true value” of the funds provided stands between just $21-24.5 billion.

At the same time, over 70% of public climate finance is actually loans, trapping poorer countries under debt even further. For Senegal, 85% of its climate finance was in the form of loans, or effectively debt.

Meanwhile, latest analysis from Carbon Brief has revealed the extent to which rich countries are failing in the $100 billion pledge. The US is responsible for 52% of the historic emissions released by wealthy and industrialized countries. Accordingly, Carbon Brief states that it must contribute $39.9 billion to the annual pledge.

In actuality, the US provided less than $8 billion in funding in 2020, the latest year for which data is available. Countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia have also not paid their proportionate share, falling short by $1.4-$3.3 billion.

“No credible pathway to 1.5C”

Just as COP27 was kicking off, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published its interim ‘Global State of the Climate’ report, ahead of its final release in April 2023. WMO found that the last eight years had been the hottest ever on record. It added that the average global temperature this year would be 1.15C above pre-industrial levels.

Sea levels are rising at twice the rate as compared to 1993 and the presence of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane in the atmosphere has hit record levels.

As fossil fuel giants like Shell, BP, and Total Energies are raking in billions profiting off of the cost-of-living crises affecting people across the world, the UN environment agency has warned that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place.” Even if current pledges for action by 2030 are fulfilled in their entirety, the global rise in temperature will still reach 2.5C, precipitating disastrous climate events.

Since COP26, only 29 out of 194 countries have presented new national action plans, and even then the updated pledges will only remove about 1% off emissions in 2030. The extent of cuts actually required to meet the 1.5C target is 50%.

Meanwhile, by 2030, the carbon emissions of the richest 1% of the world’s population is set to exceed the level compatible with the 1.5C threshold by 30 times. Eight years from now, an estimated 132 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty due to the climate crisis. According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050, an additional 250,000 people will die each year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.

Research has found that extreme heat will disproportionately increase death rates in poorer countries.

According to such analyses, there are millions of people who simply do not have the option of thinking about the climate crisis as something that will impact them 20, or eight, or even one year into the future.

“You have got to worry about now”

“What future?” Historian and journalist Vijay Prashad had asked at the People’s Summit for Climate Justice held at the sidelines of the official COP26, “Children in the African continent, in Asia, in Latin America, they don’t have a future, they don’t have a present… you have got to worry about now.”

“2.7 billion people can’t eat now and you’re telling people to reduce their consumption. How does it sound to a child who hasn’t eaten in days?”

19 million children were among the 38.7 million people in Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Chad, and South Sudan who were affected by floods between August and October 2022. Countries in East Africa are facing the worst drought in decades—in Somalia, 6.7 million people are at risk of acute food insecurity out of which over 300,000 are expected to face famine by the end of 2022.

On the whole, Carbon Brief has found that extreme weather events have killed at least 4,000 people and affected another 19 million people across Africa in 2022 alone so far. Over 70% of the world’s refugees are from countries most vulnerable to climate change— including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Syria. It is also important to note that most of these countries have also faced years of imperialist intervention and war.

West Asia and North Africa are warming at a rate that is double the global average. Severe wildfires have raged from Algeria, to Australia, to the US.

The Philippines, which witnesses an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, was just hit by tropical storm Nalgae which killed over 100 people and caused widespread flooding and landslides. Parts of Latin America have been hit by multiple hurricanes within quick succession.

As various heads of state gear up for closed-door meetings and public addresses at COP27 between November 7 and 8, any commitment to addressing the climate crisis must at its core acknowledge disproportionate vulnerabilities and inequities.