At COP27, developing countries have a message for polluters: pay up

At COP27, developing countries have a message for polluters: pay up

In Egypt, olive crops are failing under relentless heat waves. In Fiji, entire villages are moving inland to escape rising seas. In Pakistan, floods this summer killed 1,700 people and left one third of the country under water.

They are among the many developing countries facing irreversible damage from climate change, but have done little to cause the crisis. And they are demanding reparations from the parties they see as responsible: the wealthier countries that have been burning oil, gas and coal for decades and creating pollution that is dangerously warming the planet.

Across cultures and centuries, the idea that if you damage your neighbor’s property, you owe restitution is a common idea, found even in the Bible.

But as a legal and practical matter, it has been extremely difficult to apply that principle to climate change. Rich countries like the United States and the European Union have opposed the idea of ​​explicitly compensating poorer countries for climate disasters already underway, fearing that it could open them up to unlimited liability.

As United Nations climate negotiations opened Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the debate about loss and damage will be front and center. Egypt, the host country, and Pakistan, which leads the group of 77 developing countries, managed to put the issue on the formal agenda for the first time.

Simon Stiell, the UN’s climate chief, said the decision to put it on the agenda “bodes well” for a compromise by the end of the summit.

The question is inevitable this year, as leaders from nearly 200 countries gather on the African continent, where millions of people are at risk of starvation due to drought exacerbated by climate change. And the development of science made it possible for researchers to quantify the role that global warming plays in disasters, supporting the argument that rich nations have emitted half of all heat-trapping gases since 1850bears a great responsibility.

“What we are asking for is not charity, not charity, not aid – but justice,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said in September, referring to the country’s devastating floods scientists say they have been made worse by global warming. “Thirty-three million Pakistanis today pay with their lives and livelihoods for the industrialization of larger countries.”

Last year, rich countries pledged to provide $40 billion a year until 2025 to help poorer countries with climate adaptation measures, such as building flood defences. But a United Nations report estimates that this is less than one-fifth of what developing countries need. This has prompted calls for separate loss and damage funding to deal with the consequences of climate disasters from which nations cannot protect themselves.

Faced with mounting pressure, John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, agreed to discuss the idea of ​​loss and damage financing – a move that helped avoid a bitter row over the summit’s agenda.

But that is a far cry from agreeing to a new fund. The United States is already falling behind on previous promises to help poorer countries transition to cleaner energy or adapt to climate threats by building sea walls, for example. Last year, Senate Democrats sought $3.1 billion in climate funding for 2022, but secured only $1 billion. With Republicans, who are largely opposed to climate aid, poised to make gains in Tuesday’s election, the prospects for new funding are dim.

“The political basis just isn’t there,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, adding that he believed the United States had a “moral responsibility” to address the loss and damage.

Europeans worry that if they agree to the fund, they could be left in the lurch if the next US president rejects the idea.

In Turkana, a semi-arid region in northwestern Kenya that is among the poorest in the country, the loss and damage is far from abstract.

The region is now suffering the fourth consecutive year of extreme drought, and some scientists you see a long-term drying trend. Most of Turkana’s 900,000 people are pastoralists who make a living raising livestock and have watched their herds disappear due to lack of water. Half of the population faces starvation. Some herders have crossed into Uganda or South Sudan in search of greener pastures, sparking violent conflicts.

Local officials have drawn up emergency plans to adapt: ​​drill more wells to tap aquifers, build dams to store water when it rains, and help people switch to more resilient forms of agriculture. But money is an obstacle. The full plan could cost roughly $200 million a year, double the county’s annual budget, said Clement Nadio, Turkana County climate change director.

This has made Turkana acutely vulnerable in the current crisis. Officials are struggling to provide emergency food aid this year, leaving fewer resources to adapt to future droughts.

“Right now we have to focus on saving lives, dealing with malnutrition,” said Mr. Nadio. “But we also need to focus on making people resilient to future climate shocks. We do our best. But we cannot do it all with the available funds.”

Although the United Nations has not formally defined loss and damage, it could include devastation caused by extreme weather events exacerbated by global warming. in 2019 Hurricane Dorian swamped the Bahamas, bringing winds of up to 285 miles per hour and storm surges of 80 feet that destroyed homes, roads and an airport. Damage: $3.4 billion, one quarter of the national economy.

It can also include slower losses that are harder to quantify, as in the case of salt farmers in Bangladesh losing their jobs because tidal surges and heavy rainfall disrupted production, or communities in Micronesia that observed ancient cemeteries falls into encroaching oceans.

“If we had reduced emissions early enough, we would not have had to adapt, and if we had adapted early enough, we would not have had the loss and damage,” said Avinash Persaud, adviser to the Prime Minister of Barbados. “But we didn’t react early enough, so now we have to do all three.”

Because the definitions are broad, it is difficult to calculate exactly what the loss of money and damage would mean. One an oft-cited study estimates that developing countries could suffer between $290 billion and $580 billion in annual climate damage by 2030, even after efforts to adapt. That could rise to $1.7 trillion by 2050.

In the past, rich countries have suggested that such disasters can be mitigated with existing humanitarian aid or insurance.

Developing countries say this is unacceptable. By some estimates, more than half of the UN’s post-disaster appeals for donations already remain unfulfilled. And insurance doesn’t work for homes that will soon be swallowed by rising seas. Instead, poorer countries are forced to borrow for reconstruction.

Without dedicated loss and damage funding, said Lia Nicholson, senior adviser for the Alliance of Small Island States, climate impacts will force the island nations “into unsustainable debt, stalling development and holding us hostage to random acts of charity.”

With so much money at stake, discussions of loss and damage in Egypt are bound to prove contentious.

Behind the scenes, US officials say they are concerned that the new fund could be ill-defined and unwieldy.

Some rich countries also say China, currently the world’s biggest emitter, as well as fossil fuel exporters such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, should contribute. That could spark a big fight, since those countries are traditionally not held accountable for climate aid.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that each side is entrenched: developing countries and activists see loss and damage as a matter of justice, while rich nations balk at the idea of ​​accepting blame.

Mr. Kerry credited the United States for burning coal for electricity since the 1880s and is the largest historical broadcaster, bears responsibility for climate change. But he also argued that until the 1980s, when governments widely agreed that carbon dioxide emissions from oil, gas and coal were warming the planet, emerging nations were also burning fossil fuels.

“If you want to measure from there, at the rate we’re going, several countries have the ability to eclipse our historical emissions,” Kerry said. “So we burned the coal and we did this. But guess who else was burning coal? Each of those other countries. Are they freed?’

If nations agree, at least in principle, to create a loss and damage fund, they will have to wade through tough questions: Who deserves help and how much? How to guarantee that the money is spent in a way that benefits the people who need it most?

David Michael Terungwa is the President of the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Conservation in Nigeria. He recently learned that a friend’s house was flooded in Benue State floods that displaced more than 100,000 people and destroyed 140,000 hectares of agricultural land.

“I spoke to a young man who lost all his chickens in the floods,” said Mr Terungwa. “If there is something, climate insurance, it could be compensated and he could start his life again or start a business. When we talk about loss and damage, I mean that, the local farmers.”

But he also said he was concerned that governments would use the money for simple rebuilding in vulnerable areas that would be washed away in future disasters.

Developing countries say that such issues are no reason for inaction. The first step is agreement that loss and damage funding should exist; details can be worked out later.

For now, the losses continue.

Hassan Abou Bakr, a professor of agriculture at Cairo University who owns an olive grove outside the city, said he has sunk into depression as repeated heat waves have ravaged his crops, depriving them of the winter “cold hours” they need to flourish. This year his olives were fewer than ever, and most were rejected on the market.

“Climate change is not something that will happen in the future,” he said. “She’s here and now and she’s affecting us.”

Restitution would help, but worries Mr. Abou Bakra goes further than that.

“You can give money, but what about olive trees?” he said. “We have to save the trees.”

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