EXPLANATOR | Why climate change “loss and damage” will be a hot topic at COP27

  • Loss and damage will be a hot topic at this year’s climate change conference, COP27, in Egypt.
  • Nine years ago, UN climate negotiators agreed to put in place a mechanism for loss and damage, but nothing came of it.
  • The UN’s Antonio Guterres recently called for windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies that could pay for losses and damages.
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As large parts of the planet grapple with climate-induced woes, from floods in Pakistan to wildfires in the United States, the thorny question of how to deal with the “loss and damage” wrought by the global warming has become a political priority.

Nine years ago, UN climate negotiators agreed to set up a formal mechanism to address loss and damage – but little concrete has emerged beyond a sustained effort by donors to strengthen weather disaster insurance in developing countries.

With frontline nations like small islands hardest hit, they – backed by climate activists – are pushing for funding and other aid to prevent and address loss and damage from worsening floods , droughts, storms, heat and sea level rise.

At the United Nations General Assembly in September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres jumped into the debate with a controversial proposal asking wealthy governments to tax the “windfall” profits of fossil fuel companies. .

The money, he proposed, should be redirected to countries suffering loss and damage from climate change, as well as people struggling with rising food and energy prices.

Here’s why loss and damage is expected to be a hot topic at the UN’s COP27 climate change conference in November in Egypt:

What is loss and damage associated with climate change?

“Loss and damage” refers to the damage and destruction that occurs when people and places are unprepared for climate impacts and have not or cannot adjust their lifestyles to protect themselves from future changes. long term.

It can occur both as a result of rapid weather disasters made stronger or more frequent by warming temperatures – such as floods or hurricanes – as well as slower-paced stresses such as persistent drought and rising levels of sea.

Much of the “loss and damage” can be measured in financial terms, such as the cost of lost homes and infrastructure.

But there are other “non-economic” losses that are harder to quantify, like cemeteries and family photos washed away, or indigenous cultures that could disappear if an entire community had to move because their land was no longer habitable.

A June 2022 report of 55 economies hard hit by climate change – from Bangladesh to Kenya to South Sudan – found they would have been 20% richer today without climate change and the $525 billion dollars of losses inflicted on them by temperature changes. and rainfall over the past two decades.

Often the poorest families, including some in wealthier societies, cannot afford to recover what they have lost, especially as aid flows fail to meet growing needs. .

What assistance is available in the event of loss and damage?

Despite ever louder calls for a global fund to compensate countries and communities for loss and damage, talks about establishing such a fund have continued at a glacial pace.

This is mainly due to fierce opposition from rich countries – including the United States, Australia and some European countries – who do not want to be held accountable for their historically high greenhouse gas emissions or provide more funding. climatic.

Instead, some donor governments have focused on expanding access to insurance in developing countries.

The InsurResilience partnership launched in 2017, for example, aims to provide financial protection against climate and disaster risks to 500 million people, including smallholder farmers, by 2025.

But many climate campaigners say insurance cannot be a sustainable answer, with losses set to soar and possibly become uninsurable as climate disasters intensify.

READ | South Africa pitches climate demands to wealthy polluters ahead of COP27

Funding requirements for loss and damage are expected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by 2030.

Humanitarian aid is also unlikely to provide enough aid.

A 2022 study by anti-poverty charity Oxfam found that the amounts needed for humanitarian aid in response to weather-related disasters have skyrocketed over the past 20 years, increasing more than eightfold.

As demand grows, rich countries have provided just over half of the funding requested by the United Nations since 2017, leaving a huge gap, Oxfam said.

Humanitarian agencies fear that the burden of managing the growing loss and damage will fall on an already overstretched international emergency response system that will not be able to meet the growing demands on its limited resources.

So far, only the governments of Scotland, Denmark and the Walloon region of Belgium have specifically committed funds to help with loss and damage, totaling only around $15 million.

Will a global fund for loss and damage be set up soon?

A fierce fight over the issue is expected at COP27 in Egypt between vulnerable nations and those who would be expected to step in and fill the coffers of such a fund.

Small island states and least developed countries lobbied for a facility to be established at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, but was unsuccessful. Instead, a three-year dialogue on how to fund loss and damage response activities was launched as a compromise.

The Glasgow summit agreed to fund the Santiago Network, a body tasked with developing technical expertise in managing loss and damage, for example by helping countries think about how to move communities away from threatened shores.

Ahead of COP27, pressure is building again for the establishment of a loss and damage fund at this year’s UN climate conference – but it is not yet on the official agenda.

At the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) – countries among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and other climate impacts – pushed for that progress is made at COP27.

“Having talk shops on this until 2024, through the Glasgow Dialogue, does not serve our people who are suffering losses right now,” said Walton Webson, AOSIS President of Antigua- and Barbuda.

He urged governments to commit to “strong support for funding the response to loss and damage” at COP27.

READ | Poorer nations to push for compensation in climate talks

UN chief Guterres said it was “high time for a serious discussion and meaningful action” on loss and damage, adding that he hoped COP27 would address it “as a matter of climate justice, international solidarity and confidence building”.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a grouping of 55 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, has launched a #PaymentOverdue social media campaign to highlight the lack of internationally agreed financial support for communities suffering losses. and damages, to promote the sharing of solutions and to raise funds for those most affected.

The V20 – a group of finance ministers from the Climate Vulnerable Forum – has also set up a small fund for loss and damage to test how such a mechanism could help communities. The results should be presented at COP27.

Meanwhile, the UN chief’s proposal to tax fossil fuel companies to help pay for losses and damages is likely to garner support, particularly as oil companies rake in record profits.

Other fundraising suggestions have included levies on airlines and financial transactions.

“It makes perfect sense that tax systems are built in such a way that people recover from the damage caused by the biggest polluters on the planet,” said Teresa Anderson, global head of climate justice for ActionAid International.

“The proposals put forward at the UN

the General Assembly…shows that funds can be found to help those on the front lines of the climate crisis, and that there is no reason for rich countries to continue to block progress,” he said. she added.

Jessica C. Bell