Is COP27 Doomed?

Uday Kumar Varma

In Part II of the Article on COP27, the concept of Loss and Damage,and its justification is discussed. The compensation for loss and damage is about climate justice, and fairplay in international duties and responsibilities, even omissions, affecting the entire planet. Yet, politicians have their sights elsewhere.
On the first day of COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh, the reparation issue gets included in the formal agenda. It’s a good beginning but how things pan out, will be clear in a few days.

Will the discussions at COP27 make some progress or is it doomed?  The prospects seem unpromising.

Part – II

Climate change is becoming increasingly deadly and disruptive. This year’s mega-flood in Pakistan, along with a drought in Somalia that is extreme even by the standards of East Africa, and unprecedented heat waves across India, Europe, and China, starkly show how woefully inadequate efforts on mitigation and adaptation has been and the prevailing chaos  is far beyond the adaptation capabilities of individuals, communities, or nations.

A politically beleaguered Pakistan, this year’s head of Group of 77 and the co-chair for the Conference, battered by an unprecedented floods, finds a providential  opportunity to demand fiscal compensation for climate caused ‘loss and damage’, a damage caused by rich developed nations. Demanding what he calls ‘Climate Justice“, he said ‘The enormity of this climate-induced catastrophe is beyond our fiscal means.”

Some believe though, that expression of these concerns were necessary more for his own political survival.  And the threat did not go in vain. US, the most culpable among developed nations, mollified Pakistan by agreeing to a long denied sale of F-16 Fighter Aircrafts to utter disappointment, annoyance and resentment of her neighbour and bête- noir,  India.

But the issue has been effectively flagged. Many developing nations are expected to make a call for a new international “finance facility” to channel what some call ‘climate reparations’ for the “loss and damage” they have suffered. 

The litmus Test then, for COP27 to succeed rests with the U.S., the European Union, and others to drop their veto and agree to figure in the formal agenda.

Loss and Damage
The term “loss and damage” first appeared in negotiated text at COP13 in Bali in 2007. The phrase covers both direct damage from extreme weather and rising sea levels, and potential economic loss from not being able to exploit reserves of fossil fuels in the way developed nations did in the past. As part of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. and EU did concede for the first time that finance for loss and damage might be needed. But they inserted text saying this could not provide the basis for legal liability for compensation claims.

In Glasgow, they vetoed demands for a finance facility but agreed to the establishment of a three-year “dialogue” on the matter. In other words, effectively shelving the idea.

Justification
The great majority of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is causing the disruption has come from a handful of early industrializers, mainly US and Europe, that have been pumping the greenhouse gas into the air for a century and more. The poorest nations, on the receiving end and least responsible for climate change, deficient in infrastructures and resources least able to adapt, want compensation.

But rich nations — especially U.S. have long refused to concede they should provide this. They are committed to helping poor nations reduce their emissions and to invest in ways of adapting to climate change; but they say paying compensation is a step too far.

Even, this commitment has scarcely been respected. A promise of US$ 100 billion annually to poor countries for adaptation remains egregiously disregarded. 

Quantifying Damage
It is hard to estimate but the attempts to do so are illuminating, and surprising. Some studies  predict loss and damage in the developing countries by 2030 to be of the tune of about $400 billion a year; and by 2050, two studies found annual damages in the developing world would average somewhere between $1.1 and $1.8 trillion.

It’s easier to demonstrate who should pay the money, once it is known, where carbon emissions have come from historically. Since carbon lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, the CO2 pumped out of, say, American suburbs in the 1950s is doing just as much damage as the CO2 pumping out of Chinese smokestacks today — and given the long time scale of Western development, there’s far more of the former than the latter.

Eco-Equity, the San Francisco-based non-profit that specializes in deep dives on these questions of international responsibility, has put the concept in slightly different terms: To meet its historical climate responsibility, the U.S. doesn’t need to cut its emissions 100 percent. It needs to cut them 195 percent — which is physically impossible if it confines its efforts to its shores, but becomes practical if it offers a great deal of help overseas. Reduced to dollar terms, a report from U.S. civil society groups earlier this year argued that the U.S. must contribute at least $800 billion in international climate finance between 2021 and 2030, equally split among finance for mitigation, adaptation, and the loss and damage caused by irreversible climate change ($267 billion each) “as a good faith down payment.”

The Unassailable Logic: An unimpeachable Argument
The fairness of the reparation argument is quite evident. Since centuries, across civilizations, compensation for losses inflicted by war or aggression has been demanded and enforced. The only difference is that in the present scenario, the aggressors are also the victors and victors don’t pay compensation, they extract it. Polluters will not just like to give up on the privileged levels of affluence and comfort but will like to sustain it. Let the world be damned. It is inconceivable that any politician in US will dare sell the idea to their constituents to pay for the loss of harvest in Somalia or Kenya? 

The only real argument against it is the same one employed against, say, reparations for slavery and racial discrimination. Let bygones be bygones. 

The U.S. and EU fear that such compensation might expose them to legal challenge for their culpability for climate change. They both fear it might open them up to legal challenge for their culpability for climate change. A fair proposition for the world but a scary one for them.

The U.S. clearly fears any unlimited legal liability. While most developed countries will like the idea to be shoved under the carpet as long as they can help, yet, there have been some enlightening progress. Denmark became the first country to offer specific loss-and-damage funding — albeit just $13.1 million. Germany agreed putting the issue on the agenda for COP27, and in collaboration with  Egypt as conference host, appointed its climate envoy, former Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan, and Chile’s environment minister Maisa Rojas to try to find common ground. 

If the two fail in that task, then the disagreement could be a diplomatic bomb bursting over the talks.

The pacifists plead for  a UN supervised system for loss and damage finance under the UN that is based on solidarity— that is, based not on legal guilt, but on “responding to the needs of developing countries facing the climate crisis.”

The Third Pillar
Compensation for loss and damage is seen as a necessary third pillar in climate finance for poor nations — to stand alongside investment in renewable energy and funding to help them adapt to climate change. Fundamentally, it is now an argument of survival and self-interest. Because any further delay will make the situation unmanageable in the future, making the demands more drastic — and inevitably throwing everyone in the irretrievable pit of endless misery, suffering and eventually complete self-destruction

What now?
The conventionalists will insist on moving from “pledges to implementation”, while developing nations will insist on the opening day that a new item is added to the conference agenda-to create a finance facility to compensate nations for loss and damage. On the first day, developing countries have succeeded in getting it listed on formal agenda.

But there is a serious likelihood of the talk getting scuppered. The onus at Sharm-El-Sheikh would be on the Polluter countries to offer a reasonable and convincing response to the charge of culpability and offer proposals that unequivocally centre on financing. 

There is a sense of anger, desperation and impatience. “We can no longer afford to have a COP that is all talk.” seems the sentiment of countries at the receiving end. The money now is the key to any further progress. And not merely adaptation financing but clearly, reparation financing. 

The Band-Aid of adaptation financing is not going to heal the wounds that inflict the planet through an avalanche of extreme weather fluctuations and nature’s unwelcome fury. The world is cynically barrelling towards a certain catastrophe, and as natural calamities increase in frequency and intensity, so does the thirst and throat for justice.

The issue of Loss and damage is about justice, equity, fair lay.

Would international diplomacy make the unpalatable, plausible, and eventually inevitable?


Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.

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