By Imelda Abano
While the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world, climate change remains a long-term threat to millions of people suffering from increasing temperatures, rising seas, fiercer typhoons, intense droughts and shifting seasons. Yet, these catastrophic impacts are already hard to reverse, making it impossible for poorer countries to adapt to, and need to address losses and damages.
At COP27, much of the discussion focused about ‘loss and damage’ after poor and developing countries succeeded in finally including it in the formal climate negotiations.
Here’s what it is all about.
What is ‘loss and damage and why is it on the COP27 agenda?
The United Nations climate negotiations refer to the consequences of climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to, whether they lack funding to access or utilize them to implement adaptation measures. It can be a sudden event such as the super typhoon in the Philippines in 2013 where thousands of people died or the massive floods in Pakistan months before COP27 where 220 million have been impacted by flooding, with damage amounting to US$30 billion.
It can also be a slow-onset occurrence such as sea level rise submerging the coastal communities in the Pacific Region, or intense drought in parts of Africa. Adaptation itself to these occurrences can lead to vanishing traditions and culture, and livelihoods.
It was Vanuatu in the Pacific Region which brought first the ‘loss and damage’ issue to the international community’s attention.
In 2013, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established at the climate talks with a mandate to “ promote the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” But last year at the climate talks in Glasgow, developing countries called for the discussion of a loss and damage funding facility, and was blocked by the United States and the European Union. It was at the start of COP27 that countries finally agreed to supports its inclusion in the climate talks agenda due to growing pressure from countries and civil society groups.
At a press conference in the last hours of the UN-backed climate talks, leaders representing the G77 and China, Alliance of Small Island States, Least Developed Countries and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean lamented that wealthy countries must take responsibility to deliver finance for loss and damages.
Speaking on behalf of the G77 countries and China, and representing 85 percent of the world’s population, Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman said that “ vulnerability should not become a death sentence” to millions of people impacted by climate crisis. “ A climate justice delayed would be climate justice denied, and the time is ticking on this particular climate negotiations.”
Small islands and developing states are vulnerable to climate change, Antigua and Barbuda environment minister and AOSIS chair Molwyn Joseph said that political commitment has not yet been translated to a political action at the climate talks, adding that developed countries are backtracking on commitment to make progress on loss and damage.
“ We must now move from political commitment to the establishment of a loss and damage funding facility at this COP. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity,” Joseph stressed. “Some developed countries are furiously trying to stall progress and even worse, attempting to undermine small island developing states.”
In a separate occasion, the call was echoed by Greenpeace executive director for Southeast Asia Yeb Sano, saying that poorer countries demand action at COP27 and to bring justice and accountability into the heart of the negotiations by way of establishing fund for loss and damage.
“ We live in an era where we have realized the limits to adapt to climate impacts. We need to see political will here,” Sano said.
Who pays for loss and damage?
As climate-vulnerable nations who are in the forefront of climate impacts, emotions have run high at the climate talks.
“ The demand for loss and damage finance is really an issue of social justice and social equity in the context that the poor countries are suffering disproportionately the impacts of climate change,” lamented Joan Carling, executive director of the Indigenous peoples Rights International. “ We don’t have the means on finances and technology and we’re not the ones who polluted the atmosphere the most.”
On the other hand, wealthy countries that are major emitters like the US and EU fears that agreeing to a loss and damage fund could be seen as admission of liability, and will have potential future legal battles. Germany has instead launched at COP27 the development of a “Global Shield against Climate Risks” supported by other emerging countries. The shield which has an initial funding of US$200 will provide “pre-arranged financial support in times of climate disasters, mostly in the form of climate risk insurance” to small island states.
So far, climate finance has been slow. Rich countries have yet to fulfill the promise of US$100 billion that they have agreed to mobilize in 2009 to support climate action in developing countries, and to keep the rise in temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already warned that up to 3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change in places like Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, small island states, the Pacific and Arctic.
What now after COP27 climate talks?
The climate summit in Egypt have so far failed to agree on a fund for loss and damage. At the final stretch of the negotiations, COP27 Presidency chair and Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, said countries tried to come up with a common ground resolution that constitute basis for moving forward in further consultations.
“ Countries must rise to the occasion and find convergence in moving forward. The world is watching and time is not on our side. It is up to the countries to show determination to reach to a consensus and address challenges of climate change that is impacting millions of people,” Shoukry said.
“ Without loss and damage funding facility established at COP27, it means we have failed countries and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This is unapologetically snubbed by rich countries and another delay on action means it will cost more lives and livelihoods,” lamented Harjeet Singh, senior adviser of Climate Action Network International, a global network of 1,500 civil society organizations.
Singh added that while some of the processes and conversations will continue to the next climate talks in Dubai, there is a need to discuss and work out details of the funding facility.
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