The UN Loss and Damage Transitional Committee’s first meeting: what was discussed?
Climate protesters with signs saying 'Deliver loss and damage' at COP27

The UN Loss and Damage Transitional Committee’s first meeting: what was discussed?

By: Dorothy Guerrero
Date: 30 March 2023
Campaigns: Climate

The Loss and Damage Fund was the biggest breakthrough agreement in a long time from the UN climate summit or COP.  More than 30 years since the idea was first proposed by the climate-vulnerable Small Islands Developing States group, members from the developed countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) who blocked it for many years finally recanted at COP27, which was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt last year.

The fund however is still empty. To address the questions of how it will operate, who will pay, who will benefit and how it will be governed, and following the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the UNFCCC set up a Loss and Damage Transitional Committee to discuss these important elements of the fund. The Transitional Committee (TC) is made up of 24 parties to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement (the outcome of COP21 in 2015). The 24 members are composed of 14 from developing countries and 10 from developed countries. The first meeting of the committee was held from 27 to 29 March in the Egyptian desert city of Luxor. The meeting was a key event on the road to COP28 to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in December this year.

The members of the Transitional Committee

The 14 members from developing countries:

  • Africa – Egypt (COP27 presidency); South Africa; Sudan
  • Latin America and the Caribbean – Chile and Colombia (shared); Dominican Republic and Brazil (shared); Venezuela and Barbados (shared)
  • Small Island Developing States – Antigua and Barbuda (shared); Maldives
  • Other – Armenia
  • Asia and the Pacific – United Arab Emirates (COP28 presidency); India, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia (shared), China, South Korea and Pakistan (shared)
  • Least Developed Countries- Timor Leste; Bhutan

The 10 members from developed countries:

  • Europe – Norway; France; Finland; UK; Denmark and the Netherlands (shared); Ireland and Germany (shared)
  • Others – Australia, Canada, Japan, USA

Two co-chairs were elected on the first day of the meeting, Outi Honkatukia (Finland) and Richard Sherman (South Africa). UK representative Debbie Palmer from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office attended the meeting.

The basis of the UNFCCC grouping, which has also been followed in the existing channels of climate finance on mitigation and adaptation, was the list of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries in 1992 when 198 countries joined the UNFCCC. Since then, some countries have become much wealthier and with carbon emissions that are much higher. The responsibility and obligation on existing climate finance are based on the history of cumulative emissions since the industrial revolution that started in England.

Sticky points

The mandate of the Transitional Committee is to propose how the fund should be operationalised and governed to all countries at COP28 where decisions will be made. The TC will identify sources of funding, look at ways to expand the sources and how it would work with existing climate finance arrangements. The Workplan, which was approved in the Luxor meeting, includes four meetings of the TC. The next one will be in May in Europe. The region for the third and fourth meetings in August and October respectively is still to be identified. There will also be two hybrid workshops to be conducted by the secretariat in 2023. The work of the TC will be concluded with the adoption, no later than at COP28.

UK representative Debbie Palmer said in the meeting that “existing arrangements are not sufficient” and that countries need to “adjust to current realities to address the gaps and maximise the funding arrangements that already exist”. She also said “to deliver to the climate vulnerable, there is a need to increase volumes and have a broad base of sources beyond public finance”.

In their letter to the committee, social movements and climate justice groups which are part of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development argue that: “The recognition of climate debt and the Global South’s right to reparations must be at the core of the Loss and Damage Fund. A huge climate debt is owed to developing countries by the Global North, corporations, and international financial institutions (IFIs) that have historically and currently been using more than their fair share of atmospheric space.”

Campaigners who are following the work on Loss and Damage press that grassroots organisations and impacted communities must be able to directly access the fund. In the meeting, which I followed online, the discussion on ‘who will pay’ and ‘how to respond to the needs as soon as possible’ was taken at length. Delegates from developing countries expressed their worry that the fund must not be watered down and should be set up on solid foundations.

Where to get the money and what arrangements will apply are also making them anxious. At Global Justice Now, our view is that funds that will be released must come in the form of grants and not loans. Loss and Damage must not increase indebtedness. There is money, the countries and corporations that are most responsible for the climate crisis must be the ones to fill the fund. Fossil fuel conglomerates which have hugely profited while creating so many climate impacts just in 2022 alone shows there is money to fill the fund. It is time make polluters pay for loss and damage.

The year ahead

Unresolved debates at COP27 will likely re-emerge in the coming months, like the EU argument that relatively wealthy and high-emitting countries like China should pay into the fund. It is easy to imagine that the question of how much countries will contribute and how the fund will be managed will be challenging.

There is a Technical Support Unit (TSU) that will assist the work of the TC, which included key UN bodies like the UNDP, UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, International Organisation on Migration, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, etc. Seconded staff from existing climate finance mechanisms like the Adaptation Fund Secretariat, Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund and others are also in the TSU. So is the World Bank Climate Team.

There were concerns that the participation of the UNFCCC civil society constituency was limited in the meeting. There were only three seats per constituency (eg. environmental NGOs, youth, labour, women, etc). The NGOs were not in the same room where the meeting was held, but rather in an overflow room. These should be addressed in the next meetings. The road to COP28 and the concerns to be addressed on loss and damage will be closely watched by climate-vulnerable developing countries and climate justice groups that support the principle that this process must be based on justice.

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Photo: UNFCCC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)