Climate Negotiators Debate Finance for “Loss and Damage”
Will rich countries compensate poor developing countries for climate disasters?
For the first time in the history of the international climate negotiations, the agenda at COP27 in Egypt includes discussion of provision to fund developing countries for “loss and damage” — compensation for the residual impacts of climate change which mitigation and adaptation efforts are insufficient to prevent or alleviate. The issue was first raised by small island developing states in the 1990s but not formally recognized until the Bali negotiations in 2007. As climate change accelerates, the likelihood of what scientists have termed “hard limits” where “there are no reasonable prospects for avoiding intolerable risks” will increase rapidly.
As many developing nations have argued, the case for loss and damage payments is compelling. Countries responsible for only a tiny fraction of total greenhouse gas emissions are among the most vulnerable and least able to respond. “What we seek is not charity, not alms, not aid — but justice,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said in September. “What I’m looking forward to . . .is an acknowledgement that the industrialized world that became wealthy as they are today was as a direct result of their use of fossil fuels and coal,” said Philip Davis, prime minister of the Bahamas. “So should they not be held responsible for that?” Their argument has also been strengthened by attribution science, analytical methods that enable assignment of probabilities to the likelihood extreme climate events would have occurred in the absence of climate change.
A few developed nations including Scotland and Denmark, but not the United States, have announced commitments to loss and damage funds. The U.S. response to the issue has been evolving but reflects several concerns beginning with the potential for untold liability amounting to trillions of dollars; any provision that is “legally, statutorily required with some sort of legal process” has been termed a non-starter. (Note that, currently, total development assistance from all developed nations is on the order of $160 billion for all purposes.) U.S. climate envoy John Kerry also argues that “the most important thing that we can do is stop, mitigate…