COP28: What is “loss and damage” and why is it a central issue in climate change negotiations?

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Flooded roads in Jaffarabad, Pakistan in July

Fida Hussein/AFP/Getty Images

One of the most important decisions from last year’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt was the agreement to establish a fund to help low-income countries pay for the growing damage caused by climate change. was. Negotiators have been working for the past year to hammer out key details of the “loss and damage” fund, with battle lines forming over who will pay for it and who will have access to it.

After tense and extended discussions, on November 4, countries reached a consensus proposal on how to address key outstanding issues regarding the Fund. Preeti Bhandari of the environmental nonprofit World Resources Institute said it was “a great drama.”

If this fragile agreement holds, countries could smoothly adopt a loss and damage fund at the COP28 summit, which begins in the United Arab Emirates on November 30. But with so many compromises being made, the consensus can break down. This could complicate discussions on a number of other pressing issues at the summit, from a deal to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 to decisions about what to do with fossil fuels.

What is “loss/damage”?

The United Nations does not have a formal definition of loss and damage, but it broadly refers to economic or other losses caused by climate change that are beyond a country’s adaptive capacity. This could include, for example, sudden damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change, or the long-term effects of rising sea levels.

The debate over this issue dates back to the first climate change talks at the United Nations more than 30 years ago. They are primarily concerned with establishing how high-income countries can support low-income countries, which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, despite contributing the least to the climate change problem through greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve been focusing on it.

What are the big issues regarding loss and damage at COP28?

COP28 countries are likely to adopt the proposed deal agreed to by negotiators earlier this month, but any country could choose to reopen the issue. If that happens, negotiations over loss, damage and other issues could break down, Bhandari said.

The current agreement relies on compromise on several issues that separate high-income and low-income countries, including who receives the fund, which countries are expected to contribute to it, and which countries can access it. .

Importantly, for countries with historically high emissions, such as the US and UK, contributions to the proposed fund would not be mandatory or tied to past emissions. The proposed document merely “encourages” developed countries to contribute and “invites” other countries to contribute as well. As a result, “it’s very uncertain what kind of money will flow in,” Bhandari said.

However, the proposal leaves open the possibility that relatively wealthy countries such as China and Saudi Arabia could contribute to the fund, even though they are officially classified as developing countries. “It’s really important for historical polluters to try to bring other current polluters to the table,” said David Nicholson of the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps.

The proposal also leaves access to the Fund open to all developing countries, despite efforts by some high-income countries to limit access to the Fund to only the most vulnerable countries. . Another key compromise was an agreement to initially host the fund at the World Bank, despite concerns from low-income countries that placing the fund in donor-controlled banks would make financing difficult. .

That wariness comes in part from broken promises in the past. At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Summit, high-income countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help low-income countries adapt to climate change and decarbonize; You may not have been able to execute it exactly as expected and your goal may have just been achieved. We met last year.

How much money will I need if it is lost or damaged?

Friederike Roeder, of the humanitarian organization Global Citizen, said she expected to see small commitments to the fund made at COP28, including from the European Union, its member states and the United States. But big question marks will remain over the source and scale of the losses and damages. “These are not huge amounts of money that will change anything,” she says.

It’s unclear how much will ultimately be needed. The draft agreement does not specify how much money would be needed to cover losses and damage, but during negotiations low-income countries proposed a goal of providing $100 billion annually by 2030.

This is still below some estimates of the true scale of losses and damages from climate change, and is likely to increase in the future. The Fragile Twenty Group, a coalition of 68 countries most vulnerable to climate change, estimates that between 2000 and 2019, each country’s economy will lose the equivalent of one-fifth of its GDP due to climate change. It turned out that they lost $525 billion. In September, a study revealed that the cost of extreme weather events caused by climate change is already reaching $143 billion annually.

Mr Nicholson said that in addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to help low-income countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions, funding should be provided to address loss and damage. said. “We need to be clear that no amount of loss or damage will reduce our appetite for climate finance as a whole.”

“These are mind-boggling numbers,” Loder said. “What’s important to note is that it’s actually possible.” He pointed out the revenue. “The money is in the system. We just need to rechannel it.”

What role does climate science play in discussions of loss and damage?

The agreement to establish a loss and damage fund at COP27 was made possible in part by advances in climate science that have allowed researchers to link specific weather phenomena to climate change. Despite advances in this ‘attribution science’, the use of such research to inform decisions about how to allocate loss and damage funds remains controversial. .

One problem is that many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change have limited weather data on which to base attribution studies, says Joyce Kimutai of the Kenya Meteorological Department. “The tools to be able to submit evidence are not available in these areas,” she says. For example, a study of this year’s extreme flooding in Central Africa was unable to definitively link it to climate change because of a lack of rainfall data.

Kimutai therefore argues that access to compensation funds for vulnerable countries should not be conditional on proving that climate change caused certain events, at least until the science catches up. “These very vulnerable communities need that funding right now,” she said.

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