Loss and Damage in the run up to COP-28

Our headlines are once again inundated with extreme weather reports and dire climate warnings. From raging wildfires to scorching heat and catastrophic storms, one thing is clear: the impacts of climate change are here, with universal consequences. 

Over the past 50 years, extreme weather has caused economic losses of over $4.3 trillion and deaths of 2 million.[1] These are figures continuing to rise and disproportionately impacting poorer and more vulnerable countries.

Loss and Damage refers to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, which the poorest and most vulnerable countries are ill-equipped to face. The impacts of climate change are universal, but they are by no means equal. While emergency services struggle to cope across Europe, flood damage is generally repaired, fires put out and those in need evacuated. The story is completely different further afield – where extreme weather is devastating livelihoods and wiping out entire villages.[2] It is these catastrophic impacts, on those who have done the least to cause climate change, that make the urgency of establishing a loss and damage fund painstakingly clear.

COP27 ended with a commitment to establish a Loss and Damage fund to support those disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, paid for by wealthier nations. This was a huge win for campaigners, and we are thankful for the recognition of the urgent need for Loss and Damage finance.

However, we are still a long way away from seeing money in the hands of those who need it. COP27 may have agreed on the creation of a fund, but the nitty gritty of who pays and how remains to be seen.

COP27 created a Transitional Committee under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), responsible for developing a Loss and Damage Fund. The Committee is made up of 24 members – 14 from developing countries and 10 from developed (including the UK). The Committee is expected to bring a proposal for how the Loss and Damage fund should work to COP28.

The Committee had their first meeting in Luxor, Egypt, in March 2023. Discussions appear to be progressing well. However, preparing the proposals is no small feat and there remain several concerns about the ability of the Committee and COP28 to finally deliver Loss and Damage financing.

Firstly, there is a lot we still don’t know about what the Loss and Damage fund will look like. The COP27 agreement talked about “new and additional funding arrangements”. It is important that these are really ‘new’ and not depleting existing funds allocated to mitigation and adaptation. Nor can we permit countries to simply re-label their humanitarian aid as Loss and Damage funding.[3]

Secondly, there remain significant tensions about who should pay into the fund – particularly in the case of China, where an absence of historical responsibility is contrasted with present wealth and high emissions. There is also ongoing disagreement about how broad the scheme should be. Climate campaigners are pushing for a broad fund which builds climate resilience, whilst the United States and others want the fund more tightly focused on ‘non-economic losses’ and ‘slow onset’ disasters like islands sinking.[4] Small Island Developing States have countless claims regarding the erasure of their entire countries and heritage.[5] Prioritising these against dire outlooks elsewhere is an extraordinary task.

Finally, the most controversial things (clear guidelines on the financing, scope and mechanism of the fund) are all left to be agreed at COP28. Given the credentials of COP28 President Sultan Al Jabar as chief executive of a large oil company, many are already questioning the ability of COP28 to deliver.

Mohamed Nasr, Egypt’s lead negotiator, said “Should we fix this discussion on who’s going to pay, or should we respond to them as soon as possible, and continue our process? I think this is the way we see it; we should respond as soon as possible”.[6] There is much merit to this point. Discussions around the technicalities of Loss and Damage can go on indefinitely. Indeed, Loss and Damage was first introduced to UN climate negotiations around 1991.[7]

There cannot be 30 more years of negotiations because it will simply be too late. Some small island countries may be uninhabitable by 2050. 143 million people are estimated to be displaced by weather-related events by 2050.[8]

COP28 must deliver Loss and Damage financing.

To this end, it is important to keep pressure on our politicians around Loss and Damage. As the fiscal situation in the UK continues to deteriorate, both the Labour and Conservative parties are hugely reluctant to commit to spending promises. In this context, it is difficult to imagine the UK serving as an advocate for the big amounts of money needed for Loss and Damage without strong public awareness.

[1] https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/atlas-of-mortality

[2] https://www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/climate-change/loss-and-damage-testimonials-videos

[3] https://kleinmanenergy.upenn.edu/podcast/loss-and-damage-finance-becomes-reality/

[4] https://www.voanews.com/a/explainer-will-cop28-deliver-a-new-fund-for-climate-loss-and-damage-/7127095.html

[5] Developing countries need a loss and damage fund for climate change. How can COP28 make it happen? – Atlantic Council

[6] https://www.euronews.com/green/2023/03/27/cop27-finally-put-a-loss-and-damage-fund-on-the-map-what-can-we-expect-on-the-way-to-cop28

[7] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/a/wg2crp08.pdf

[8] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190813-how-to-save-a-sinking-island-nation


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