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Climate emergency: will rich nations that pollute pay reparations?

After decades of slow progress on climate action, with political leaders dragging their heels on finance or debating whether climate change is real, this year’s extreme weather proved to be a stark reminder that the world has reached some of the points tipping point that climate scientists have been warning us about. on.

The deaths of more than 1,700 people in the Pakistan floods, as well as the 4,000 victims caused by drought and floods across the African continent are just some of the horrific events that will shape the climate finance conversation, and in particular on climate reparations, globally. upcoming COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

If countries had worked harder to mitigate their carbon emissions and improve their adaptation strategies, some of these casualties could have been avoided, says Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development.

“But unfortunately, we haven’t done enough,” he says. “When people lose their lives, livelihoods and homes, adaptation is no longer possible.”

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According to research by the NGO Oxfam, the need for financial aid after weather disasters has increased eightfold compared to 20 years ago, and the funding gap is widening.

Oxfam estimates a gap of up to $33 billion over the last five years, a figure dwarfed by the cost of “loss and damage” following recent disasters such as the 2021 European floods, which caused $45 billion in damage, or Hurricane Maria in 2017 that wiped out the equivalent of 226 percent of Dominica’s gross domestic product (GDP).

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pakistan flood
A man carries some belongings as he wades through flood waters in Jaffarabad, a flood-affected district of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. [File: Zahid Hussain/AP]

Researchers in Spain have estimated that by 2040, the cost of loss and damage to developing countries alone could reach $1 trillion. Who pays the bill is a question that the rich economies responsible for most of past emissions and current global warming have been resolutely avoiding for years.

But things can change at the COP27 summit from November 6 to 18.

In September, representatives of 30 negotiating groups under the United Nations climate change framework held a meeting focused on the issue of loss and damage, the diplomatic term used to indicate irreparable environmental damage caused by extreme weather impacts.

Delegates succeeded in including financing for loss and damage on the provisional agenda of this year’s COP, to discuss aspects such as the timing, scope and placement of financing, as well as potential sources and eligibility criteria for support.

‘uncomfortable’ countries

Last year’s UK climate talks failed to provide a financial mechanism for loss and damage, something a group of 134 developing countries (known as the G77) plus China now intends to fight for under the leadership of Pakistan.

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The issue of financing climate repairs was not even on the agenda at COP26, explains Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at the NGO Climate Action Network (CAN) International. Historically, loss and damage has been addressed as a form of adaptation, although the Paris Agreement marks it out as a separate issue.

“Countries were so uncomfortable with [the idea of monetary compensation] that even just putting [loss and damage] on the website was not acceptable to them and they used the excuse that the Paris Agreement was not yet operational to avoid the conversation,” says Singh.

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FILE PHOTO: A view of a COP27 billboard on the road leading to the conference area in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh as the city prepares to host the COP27 summit. COP27 next month, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on October 20, 2022.
A COP27 billboard on the road leading to the conference area in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. [File: Sayed Sheasha/Reuters]

After last year, when a rulebook to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement was signed, says Singh, the argument will no longer hold, with financing for loss and damage expected to feature for the first time on the final agenda of the COP. .

While this is a historic step, “even the most optimistic person will not believe that we will get approval of a financial mechanism and the decision of all its procedures,” says Nisha Krishnan, a climate resilience expert at the World Resources Institute Africa, a nonprofit organization. profit.

If the financial facility is approved this year, “it will be up to the parties to negotiate its design, especially developing countries,” he says.

“I think the inclusive process matters, because otherwise there would be no legitimacy for this facility.”

At the earliest, this work would begin at the next round of climate talks, kicking off a process of years before any funding reaches affected communities on the ground.

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While climate diplomacy can only make slow progress in building consensus and building strong policy frameworks, the frequency and severity of climate-driven disasters are only accelerating.

‘Substantive discussions’ needed

That is why at COP27, negotiators and civil society groups will lobby not only to see more money on the table, but also to open new avenues for capital to move faster and have an impact.

The Working Group on Access to Climate Finance is one such example, created in March 2021 to help simplify and accelerate access to finance for developing countries.

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Bangladesh, Fiji, Jamaica, Rwanda and Uganda have volunteered to participate in the pilot phase of the programme, the results of which are due to be evaluated this year. Krishnan also mentions the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, established in 2019 to help countries access technical assistance to address climate devastation.

“[The Santiago Network] it still needs to be operationalized, it still doesn’t have a governance structure,” he explains.

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As far as official negotiations are concerned, aside from the main objective of establishing a mechanism for financing loss and damage, says Krishnan, “there could be special windows opened with existing funds, including a substantiation of the Glasgow Dialogue”, a forum established last year to discuss irreparable environmental degradation, currently with a broad and poorly detailed mandate.

“Right now, the concern is that the Glasgow Dialogue remains just that, a dialogue with no results in sight,” says Krishnan.

“Is there a result that can be mandatory? Can there be more substantive discussions instead of meeting once a year? These are some of the things we would like to see at COP27.”

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