Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Delegates from nearly 200 countries at the COP27 climate summit agreed to establish a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries cope with climate-related disasters, in a historic deal early Sunday morning 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 hammer out other contentious parts of the deal, including a proposal to include a call for phasing out all fossil fuels, rather than just coal.
The deal marks the first time that countries and groups, including long-time holdouts like the United States and the European Union, have agreed to create a “loss and damage” fund for nations vulnerable to climate disasters. compounded by pollution produced disproportionately by rich, industrialized countries. .
Negotiators and non-governmental organizations observing the talks said the fund was a significant achievement, after developing countries and small island nations banded together to amp up pressure.
The fund will focus on what can be done to support loss and damage resources, but it does not include liability or compensation provisions, a senior Biden administration official told CNN.
The United States and other developed countries have long sought to avoid such provisions that could expose them to legal liability and lawsuits from other countries. And in previous public remarks, US climate envoy John Kerry said loss and damage were not the same as climate reparations.
“‘Reparations’ is not a word or term that has been used in this context,” Kerry said in a recent call with reporters earlier this month. He added: “We have always said that it is imperative that the developed world help the developing world to deal with the impacts of climate.”
Details on how the fund will work remain unclear. The text leaves many questions about when it will be finalized and become operational, and how exactly it will be funded. The text also mentions a transition committee that will help work out these details, but does not set 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 homes are destroyed, farmers whose fields are destroyed, and islanders forced from their ancestral homes,” said Ani Dasgupta, CEO of the World Resources Institute. “At the same time, developing countries are leaving Egypt without clear assurances on how the fund for loss and damage will be overseen.”
A result on a fund came this year largely because the G77 developing country bloc remained unified, exerting greater leverage on loss and damage than in previous years, climate experts said .
“They needed to be together to force the conversation that we are having now,” Nisha Krishnan, director of resilience at the World Resources Institute Africa, told reporters. “The coalition held on because of this belief that we had to stick together to deliver this – and to move the conversation forward.”
For many, the fund represents a hard-fought victory for years, pushed over the finish line by global attention to climate disasters such as the devastating floods in Pakistan this summer.
“It was like a big buildup,” former US climate envoy Todd Stern told CNN. “It has been around for some time and it becomes all the more aggravating for vulnerable countries that there is still not a lot of money being invested in it. As we can see, the real effects of climate change disasters are becoming more and more intense.
The conference first worked overtime 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 – America’s top climate official – is self-isolating after recently tested positive for Covidworking on the phone instead of having face-to-face meetings.
And earlier on Saturday, EU officials threatened to walk out of the meeting if the final deal did not endorse the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
For decades, global scientists have been warning that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees – a threshold that is fast approaching since the planet’s average temperature has already reached around 1.1 degrees. Above 1.5 degreesthe risk of extreme drought, forest fires, floods and food shortages will increase dramatically, scientists in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations.
In a carefully choreographed press conference on Saturday morning, EU Green Deal Czar Frans Timmermans, flanked by a full 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. For us, this is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The EU has made it clear that it is willing to accept a loss and damage fund – a major shift in its position from just a week ago – but only in return for a strong commitment on the 1.5 degree lens.
As the sun set over Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday evening, the mood turned to cautious jubilation as groups of negotiators began to hint that a deal was in sight.
But, as is always the case with high-level diplomacy, officials were quick to point out that nothing is truly agreed until the final hammer falls.