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At the 13th hour, COP27 delivers loss-and-damage fund for vulnerable nations

20 November 2022

Joe Ware reports on a ground-breaking agreement in Sharm El-Sheikh

Albin Hillert

Campaigners for a loss-and-damage fund in Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday

Campaigners for a loss-and-damage fund in Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday

COUNTRIES at the UN climate summit, COP27, in Egypt, finally struck a deal in the early hours of Sunday morning, with a historic decision to establish a “loss-and-damage” fund to compensate victims of climate change.

It is a remarkable result, considering that vulnerable nations and civil society organisations had to fight to get discussion of the issue even on to the agenda in the opening days of the meeting. Only days ago, many long-time observers were not confident the fund would get the green light.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who is the C of E’s lead bishop for the environment, said: “On the positive side, we can welcome the agreement about a loss-and-damage fund. This is something which we highlighted as being an essential outcome, and an issue which has been promoted by campaigners from faith groups, as well as by those most impacted in the Global South. These are the first steps towards climate justice, but they must continue at pace.”

The issue of loss and damage, compensation for climate-induced losses, and damages which cannot be adapted to, has been debated since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. A veteran COP observer, Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based climate think tank Power Shift Africa, said: “To quote the Three Lions England football song, after 30 years of hurt, loss and damage is finally coming home on African soil here in Egypt.”

He said that, with the series of COPs, which make up the UN negotiations, so often not delivering for poorer vulnerable countries, this was a significant victory.

Others were less happy with the outcome in Sharm el-Sheikh, which ran nearly a day and a half over the scheduled end time of Friday night, and concluded on Sunday morning as the summit venue was being dismantled.

Tearfund’s senior Africa policy adviser, Fredrick Njehu, criticised rich nations for still not fulfilling their promise to send $100 billion in climate finance to poor nations by 2020.

He said: “On the vital issue of climate finance, the final text does little more than recognise the ongoing failure to deliver the long-overdue $100 billion. Apologies will not protect people from flooding and drought. And the omission of a call to phase out all fossil fuels is a colossal failure and evidence of the fossil-fuel industry’s grubby fingers at these talks.

“We need so much more if we’re to see justice for people living in poverty across the world, who are the ones counting the cost of inaction as a result of a crisis they didn’t cause. It’s deadly to stand still in the face of a rising tide.”

In his summary of the COP outcome, the executive director at GreenFaith, the Revd Fletcher Harper, pointed out that the refusal of rich countries to honour their financial commitments was a political choice. He said: “Since early 2020, the world’s richest countries have shown that they have the money and capacity to act when they decide to, spending $14 trillion on Covid stimulus packages, and $80 billion to counter Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. These recent, massive commitments are jarring when juxtaposed with the lethally slow progress at COP27.”

One of the issues that demonstrated this slow progress was a commitment from rich countries at last year’s meeting, COP26, in Glasgow, to double finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change by 2025. In the 12 months since, no steps have been taken to suggest that rich countries will deliver on this promise.

Kata Kuhnert, a youth delegate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, was attending COP with the ACT Alliance, a network of churches and Christian humanitarian agencies. She said: “It is inexcusable that a year after agreeing to double adaptation finance, that promise cannot be advanced at COP27. Support to help vulnerable states and communities adapt to more frequent and extreme weather events impacted by climate change cannot wait.”

There was also disappointment at the lack of improvements in tackling emissions, and the growth of fossil-fuel use. In the last hours of the negotiations the “High Ambition Coalition”, a group of EU and vulnerable countries that want to see more emissions reductions, pushed for stronger language on phasing down all fossil fuels. But, despite their efforts, blocking from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran among others, foiled these attempts. Ultimately, there was little that built on the agreement struck in Glasgow last year, which committed countries to phase down only coal use.

The director of advocacy and communications at Cafod, Neil Thorns, said: “The lack of progress on phasing out of fossil fuel in the cover text was extremely disappointing, and does not match the urgency as clearly outlined by the science.”

But a negotiator from the Africa Group said, off the record, that the fact such a big fight was made about it this year might help to get such a commitment over the line in next year’s meeting in the United Arab Emirates. Last year in Glasgow, developing countries and civil society left disappointed, despite a huge effort to get a loss-and-damage fund created there. But the momentum that came from that fight led to 12 months of growing pressure which culminated in the world agreeing to create a fund in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Joe Ware is a senior climate journalist at Christian Aid.

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