A win 30 years in the making at COP27
By: Daniel Willis
Date: 25 November 2022
Although it barely seemed possible last month, or indeed during the negotiations, COP27 ended in the early hours of Sunday morning with an agreement to set up a new loss and damage fund.
Amidst the organisational failures and human rights concerns related to Egypt’s hosting of the UN talks, this is a genuine victory for the global south that can help to build momentum for bolder, more radical change in the years to come.
The demand for loss and damage has been made for 30 years by countries in the global south, starting with the Association of Small Island States in 1991. It is a huge win for the negotiators who stayed strong in the face of opposition, and for the social movements that stood in solidarity with them.
Of course, there is still a long road and many political battles ahead to ensure that the fund is set up and financed on an equitable basis. Over the next twelve months, discussions will be held over how the fund is structured, including the crucial questions over who will contribute and which countries will be eligible recipients.
We also shouldn’t ignore the fact that in other areas, such as the phase out of fossil fuels and on carbon markets, COP27 was sorely lacking. But at a time when the fossil fuel industry is pulling out all the stops to delay and deter the necessary global action taking place, every step towards climate justice is incredibly hard-won. We should take a moment to celebrate this historic progress on loss and damage.
The establishment of a loss and damage fund was just the first step in our campaign. We still need to ensure the fund operates and is funded in a just way, and that it’s paid for by taxing the big polluters that have caused the climate crisis in the first place.
Throughout next year, we will have to monitor the process of establishing the loss and damage fund and push back against any attempts by rich countries to avoid their historic responsibility.
Already at COP27 there were battles on these issues, with the EU calling for some countries in the global south to contribute, and language in the final text that narrowed the scope of recipients to only those who are “particularly vulnerable” to climate impacts. There were two key reasons the EU did this; to try and sow discord between the determined and united G77 negotiators, and to try and undermine the principle of countries having “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities” for tackling climate change.
This fundamental principle, which recognises that rich countries are both more responsible for climate change and more able to provide support to others, is central to climate equity and is hard wired into the UN process. If rich countries are successful in undermining CBDR-RC, there is no telling what they will be able to get away with next.
The most pressing issue for us, however, is building public support for the UK to make a commitment of new and additional finance (not aid money) to the fund, in proportion with our historic carbon emissions, and to tax big polluters like BP and Shell to pay for it. To do this, we will have to go beyond the government’s current windfall tax, which has allowed Shell to get away with paying absolutely nothing this year, to increase taxation on corporate wealth, polluting activities, and financial transactions that prop up the fossil fuel industry.
Negotiators and movements in the global south have pushed hard for this fund to be established – now it’s over to us to make sure our governments contribute to it. If we can show the same perseverance and unity that the global south has shown over the last fortnight, then we stand a chance.
A long road
Yet we still can’t be complacent about the other challenges COP27 has raised.
These talks were flooded by fossil fuel lobbyists fighting to defend the corporate power of the world’s biggest polluters. As a result, the language on fossil fuels was even weaker in the final text this year than it was after COP26 in Glasgow.
We saw US climate envoy John Kerry introduce a new plan for carbon markets and offsetting. This came alongside draft texts that support dangerous false solutions for tackling the climate crisis, such as geoengineering, that would give over swathes of land in the global south to offsetting the global north’s excess emissions. Although the final decisions on these texts have ultimately been deferred, there will need to be strong civil society push back against these initiatives to avoid expanding injustice in the future.
And on climate finance beyond loss and damage, the US and other rich countries again failed to meet their $100 billion / year target, while deferring decisions on the post-2025 goal until the years ahead. Instead of pushing forward with the urgent need to agree collective future goals for these financial transfers, the US seems more intent on talking up the capacity of private finance to fill the gap and on initiating bilateral agreements with willing governments.
But the weekend’s events show that bad faith promises and negotiations by rich countries cannot continue forever, and that the global south won’t be so easily fooled again. We also learned a useful reminder; that when we stand together in solidarity with those fighting against climate injustice, we can push back against the power of rich countries and their corporate lobbyists. Together, we must continue to do so in the months and years ahead.
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Photo: A loss and damage protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. Credit: Global Justice Now