Climate change meeting recalls inaction on past promises

The annual United Nations climate change conference inevitably brings to light a host of incongruities that remind us of how ununited we are.

Consider the current COP27 gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort where the royal suite at the Four Seasons costs a visitor $11,000 (US) per night, where vulnerable nations come together once again to document relentless environmental devastation that is not theirs. and where protesters are calling on the anti-human rights government of Egypt to release imprisoned pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who has been on a hunger strike for months.

Against this backdrop, this year’s Conference of the Parties, known as COP27, has presented itself as a gathering that will push for the full implementation of past environmental commitments that have been insufficient, unaudited and unfulfilled.

If that sounds loaded with the world-weary defeatism of the skeptic, consider the opening statement for this year’s conference by Gaston Browne, President of Antigua and Barbuda. Speaking on behalf of AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, Browne showed grim weariness as he reminded delegates of the alliance’s proposal for a funding mechanism that would address loss and damage associated to sea level rise.

The date of this proposal? December 1991.

All these decades later, there is still no functioning financial mechanism to compensate for loss and damage, Browne noted, as he referred to what he called the “hammering meaning” of Macbeth’s soliloquy. Tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. An entire generation has been born and grown into adulthood, Browne said, and yet tomorrow has not come. What has happened are catastrophic events where Member States can suffer damage from a single climatic event equal to their entire annual gross domestic product.

Current conference delegates may have forgotten that the idea as it was conceived all those years ago was not just to shift the burden of loss and damage to industrialized developed countries, but to significant way to encourage these same rich nations to limit their CO2 emissions. Sea level rise was the obvious goal for vulnerable small island counties, but such a mechanism, the authors say, could potentially be a model for nations suffering from desertification and drought.

In the run-up to COP27, advocates have had to push for loss and damage to be an agenda item at this year’s conference. This weekend, amid proceedings, it was becoming clear that an agreement on a loss and damages fund, or lack thereof, would define the success or failure of the rally.

There has been progress. Ireland, Scotland, Belgium and Denmark are among those who have now made what can only be described as modest financial commitments to repair catastrophic losses, but without a defined mechanism for distributing the funds. Scotland this week increased its pledge to around $11 million. Belgium has announced a 25 million euro ($34 million) program for Mozambique, the majority of which will be targeted at green energy investments while 2.5 million euros will go towards loss and damage.

Germany has led G7 countries, under the auspices of the World Bank, in creating a Global Climate Risk Shield, pledging 170 million euros to a still undefined insurance program to be officially launched at COP27 next week. Last Wednesday, the Government of Canada committed $7 million to the insurance scheme, which it generously pledged would help make climate-vulnerable countries more resilient and protect people’s lives and livelihoods. most at risk, including women and girls. Optimism about how this will work, and the potential impact on a global crisis that requires billions of dollars of investment to effect change, is on hold for now.

Gaston Browne reflected on the 30-year-old promise to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. Those years have been wasted. Today, he pointed out, emissions have exceeded the danger threshold as governments and companies attend annual COP meetings to deliver what he calls grand declarations and lofty commitments.

During this period, loss and damage has been seen as controversial and divisive when it should, as Browne made clear, be seen as a form of climate justice. AOSIS calls for a fund to be established and made operational by 2024.

Must we say that it is high time that the burden of the devastation be transferred financially to the shoulders of the industrialized countries? Will there finally be meaningful action or will the events of the days to come as we head towards the conclusion of this final COP go down in history as just another promise set aside for another tomorrow?

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