COP27: Summit agrees climate fund for ‘loss and damage’ in historic deal

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Delegates from nearly 200 countries at the COP27 climate summit agreed to set up a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters, in a historic deal early Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

But while the deal represents a breakthrough in what has been a contentious negotiation process, delegates were still working to craft other controversial parts of the deal, including a proposal to include a call to phase out all fossil fuels, rather than just charcoal.

The deal marks the first time that countries and groups, including longtime resisters like the United States and the European Union, have agreed to set up a “loss and damage” fund for nations vulnerable to weather disasters made worse by pollution produced disproportionately by wealthy, industrialized nations. .

Negotiators and non-governmental organizations observing the talks said the fund was a significant achievement, as developing nations and small island countries joined in turning up the pressure.

The fund will focus on what can be done to support loss and damage remedies, but does not include liability or compensation provisions, a senior Biden administration official told CNN.

The US and other developed nations have long sought to avoid such provisions that could expose them to legal liability and lawsuits from other countries. And in earlier public statements, US climate envoy John Kerry had said that loss and damage was not the same as climate repairs.

“’Reparations’ is not a word or a term that has been used in this context,” Kerry said on a recent call with reporters earlier this month. And he added: “We have always said that it is imperative that the developed world help the developing world deal with climate impacts.”

Details about how the fund would operate remain murky. The text leaves many questions about when it will be finished and operational, and how exactly it will be financed. The text also mentions a transition committee that will help nail down those details, but does not set any specific future deadlines.

And while climate experts celebrated the victory, they also noted the uncertainty ahead.

“This loss and damage fund will be a lifeline for poor families whose houses are destroyed, farmers whose fields are ruined and islanders forced to leave their ancestral homes,” said Ani Dasgupta, director general of the World Resources Institute. “At the same time, developing countries are leaving Egypt without clear assurances about how the loss and damage fund will be monitored.”

The result of a fund came about this year in large part because the G77 bloc of developing countries stuck together, wielding greater influence over loss and damage than in previous years, climate experts said.

“They needed to be together to force the conversation we’re having now,” Nisha Krishnan, director of resilience at the World Resources Institute for Africa, told reporters. “The coalition has stood by this conviction that we needed to stay together to get this done and to drive the conversation forward.”

For many, the fund represents a victory of years of hard fighting, pushed to the finish line by the global attention paid to climate disasters, such as Pakistan’s devastating floods this summer.

“It was like a big buildup,” former US climate envoy Todd Stern told CNN. “This has been around for quite some time and it is becoming increasingly annoying for vulnerable countries because not a lot of money is being invested yet. As we can see, the real impacts of disasters caused by climate change are becoming more intense.”

The conference went into overtime for the first time on Saturday before continuing into the early hours of Sunday morning, with negotiators still working out details as workers dismantled the venue around them. At times, there was a real feeling of fatigue and frustration. To complicate matters, Kerry, the top US climate official, is self-isolating after he recently tested positive for covid, working over the phone instead of having face-to-face meetings.

And earlier on Saturday, EU officials threatened to pull out of the meeting if the final deal does not support a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Global scientists have warned for decades that warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees, a threshold that is fast approaching as the planet’s average temperature has already risen to around 1.1 degrees. Beyond 1.5 degrees, the risk of extreme droughts, wildfires, floods and food shortages will increase dramatically, scientists said in the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In a carefully choreographed press conference on Saturday morning, the EU’s Green Deal czar Frans Timmermans, flanked by a whole list of ministers and other senior officials from EU member states, said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

“We don’t want 1.5 Celsius to die here and today. That for us is completely unacceptable,” she said.

The EU made it clear that it was willing to accept a loss and damage fund, a major change in its position compared to just a week ago, but only in exchange for a strong commitment to the 1.5 degree target.

As the sun set in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday night, the mood changed to cautious jubilation, with groups of negotiators beginning to hint that a deal was in the offing.

But, as is always the case with high-level diplomacy, officials were quick to emphasize that nothing is truly agreed until the final hammer falls.

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