COP27: What is « loss and damage », the key issue of the climate summit



Aftab Khan felt helpless when torrential floodwaters submerged a third of Pakistan, his home country.

Khan’s hometown was completely under water. His friend rescued a woman who had walked barefoot, carrying her sick child, through stagnant floodwater for 15 miles. And Khan’s own mother, who now lives with him in Islamabad, was unable to return home over devastated roads to check if her daughter was safe.

« These are heartbreaking stories, true stories, » Khan, an international climate change consultant, told CNN. « I was heartbroken. »

Pakistan has become the clearest example this year of why some countries are fighting for a so-called “loss and damage” fund. The concept is that the countries that have contributed the most to climate change with their planet-warming emissions should pay poorer countries to recover from the resulting disasters.

Earlier this year, Pakistan baked in a deadly heatwave that climate change made 30 times more likely, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Now he is reeling from the aftermath of the worst flooding in living memory.

The South Asian country is responsible for less than 1% of global warming emissions, but it is paying a heavy price. And there are many other countries like him in the world.

Loss and damage will be at the center of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this year, as low-emission countries hit by floods or see their islands sink into the ocean demand that developed countries to strong emissions pay for this damage. .

But it’s been a contentious issue for years, as wealthy countries like the United States fear that accepting a fund for loss and damage could expose them to legal liability and possible lawsuits.

Climate activists in developing countries and a former senior US climate official told CNN the clock is ticking, pointing to the cascading disasters in Pakistan as the clearest evidence of the need for a dedicated casualty fund. and damage.

The developing world is « not ready to protect, adapt and be resilient » to climate disasters, former White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy told CNN. “It is the responsibility of the developed world to support this effort. Commitments have been made but they are not kept.

As a concept, loss and damage is the idea that rich countries, having emitted the most global warming gases, should pay poorer countries who are now suffering from climate disasters that they did not create. .

Loss and damage is not a new issue. Developing countries and small island states have been calling for this type of fund since 1991, when Pacific island Vanuatu first proposed a plan to allow high-emitting countries to funnel money to those affected by rising from sea level.

It took more than a decade for the proposal to gain momentum, even as much of Vanuatu and other small Pacific island nations slowly disappear.

In Fiji, the home island of climate activist Lavetanalagi Seru, it has cost an average of $1 million to relocate communities due to rising sea levels. Moving away from ancestral lands is not an easy decision, but climate change is having irreversible effects on the islands, said Seru, regional policy coordinator for the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network.

“Climate change threatens the very social fabric of our Pacific communities,” Seru said. “That’s why these funds are needed. This is a matter of justice for many small island developing States and countries like those in the Pacific.

One of the main reasons why this type of fund is controversial is that rich countries fear that payment of such a fund could be seen as an admission of liability, which could trigger legal battles. Developed countries like the United States have pushed this away in the past and continue to tiptoe around the issue.

Khan said he understood why rich, developed countries were « dragging their feet ». But he added that it is « very important for them to show empathy and take responsibility ».

There has also been confusion over its definition – whether loss and damage is a form of liability, compensation or even reparation.

« ‘Reparations’ is not a word or term that has been used in this context, » US climate envoy John Kerry said in a recent call with reporters. He added: « We have always said that it is imperative that the developed world help the developing world to deal with the impacts of climate. »

Huts made of branches and fabric shelter Somalis displaced by drought on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia, in September.

Kerry pledged to have a conversation about a fund this year before the 2024 deadline to decide what such a fund would look like. And U.S. officials still have questions — whether that would come from an existing financial source like the Green Climate Fund, or an entirely new source.

Kerry also sparked controversy over the subject at a recent New York Times event, when in response to a question about loss and damage, Kerry seemed to suggest that no country had enough money to help. places like Pakistan to recover from devastating weather disasters.

« You tell me the government around the world has trillions of dollars, because that’s what it costs, » Kerry said at the event.

But others say the money is there. It’s more a question of priorities.

“Look at the annual defense budget of developed countries. We can mobilize the money,” Alden Meyer, senior partner at E3G, told CNN. “It’s not a question of money to be here. It is a question of political will.

At COP27, the biggest debate will be on whether to create a dedicated financial mechanism for loss and damage – on top of existing climate finance to help countries adapt to climate change and switch to energy own.

After climate-ravaged nations called for a new loss and damage financing mechanism at COP26 in Glasgow last year, it is likely to be an official program at COP27 this year. But even though wealthier countries like the US and EU countries have pledged to talk about it, there is not much hope that countries will emerge from Sharm to agree on a fund.

“Do we expect to have a fund by the end of the two weeks? I hope, I’d love to – but we’ll see how the parties get there,” Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Nasr, the country’s top climate negotiator, told reporters recently.

But Nasr also stifled expectations, saying that while countries are still negotiating whether to even put loss and damage on the agenda, they are unlikely to make a breakthrough on a funding mechanism. .

He said the loss and damage conversation is more likely to continue over the two weeks of Sharm, perhaps ending an established framework for a funding mechanism – or clarifying whether funds could come from new or existing sources.

Some officials from climate-vulnerable countries have warned that if countries do not reach an agreement now, the problem will be much worse later.

« For the countries that are not on the front line, they think it’s kind of a distraction and people should focus on mitigation, » Avinash Persaud, special envoy to the prime minister of China, told CNN. Barbados, Mia Mottley. “If we had made mitigations early enough, we wouldn’t have had to adapt, and if we had adapted early enough, we wouldn’t have lost any damage. But we didn’t do those things.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the amount of money spent to relocate communities in Fiji due to sea level rise. It’s an average of $1 million per community, according to Lavetanalagi Seru.

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