Rich countries to pay for 'climate change losses'

A submerged building at Soi Safari Lodge on the shores of Lake Baringo, October 13, 2020. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The UN climate summit that was wrapped over the weekend ended with a deal on the creation of a loss and damage fund by next year to compensate developing countries for the irretrievable losses suffered as a result of climate change. 

The two-week COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt estimated costs from extreme weather soar to over $200 billion (Sh24T) annually and hence saw commitment for a financial support structure for the most vulnerable countries-with the breakthrough realised after the US reversed its opposition to the fund.

This was a hard-won victory. For decades, developing countries most vulnerable to climate change have been fighting for rich countries to pay for damage caused by destructive storms, heat waves, and droughts linked to rising temperatures. 

Mohamed Adow, Executive Director - of Power Shift Africa said the loss and damage fund is something vulnerable countries have been calling for since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and has been a part of the formal negotiations since COP19 in Warsaw in 2013. 

Vanessa Nakate, a Climate Justice Activist from Uganda said “we will not have justice until money starts to flow to vulnerable communities, so there is much work still to do.

She added that at COP27 the voices of young people “were not heard loudly at COP27 because of restrictions on protest” but the movement is growing and young people in every country are demanding more of those in power.

While many diplomats and climate activists welcomed the landmark deal — whose details will be worked on in 2023 — the summit outcome was widely viewed as a failure in efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room,” warned UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “We need to drastically reduce emissions now — and this is an issue this COP did not address. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.” 

Though the climate talks started by addressing symptoms of the climate crisis, they hardly addressed causes that result from greenhouse gas emissions.

 Of interest was the scale of influence of the fossil-fuel industry and its supporting states which were on full display, as fossil fuel was downplayed during the summit yet “the science is clear, the impacts are getting worse and we know that renewables are the future,” said Adow adding that polluting countries need to leave coal, oil, and gas in the ground to keep global warming from running out of control.

The agreement struck in Sharm el-Sheikh did not address the destructive impacts fossils wreck on nature. Countries also failed to agree to a phase-down of all fossil fuels from the build calls at COP26 in Glasgow.

Experts were not surprised as oil, gas and big agriculture industries hung heavy over the talks, with 600 plus lobbyists at the summit and a stream of gas deals struck on the sidelines. 

In the dying hours of the COP, the deal was weakened with the 1.5C target relegated to the section on Science, whereas during COP26 in Glasgow it sat alongside the solutions to the climate crisis in the mitigation section.

Holding global warming to 1.5C will reduce the climate crisis and speed up rapid emissions cuts.

Catherine Abreu, Founder, and  Director, of Destination Zero, said the fossil fuel industry and the elites took over COP27 but “their actions won’t stall the inevitable progress unfolding on the ground away from fossil fuels and toward efficient, renewable energy.”

 On the sidelines, a $20 billion (Sh2.4T) deal was struck to transition Indonesia from coal, with similar arrangements for Vietnam and potentially Senegal in the offing. This ‘JET-P - Just Energy Transition Partnership’ agreements build on the $8.5bn (Sh1b) deal struck with South Africa at COP 26- and could be significant in accelerating the global energy transition.

There was a tussle over development pathways for Africa which is home to 600 million people without reliable electricity, but there was no wholesale move towards gas in Africa at COP27 with an anticipated gas-industry driven platform “Team Energy Africa” getting canceled at the last minute due to the involvement of convicted fraudster and gas lobbyist NJ Ayuk. 

Next month in Montreal at COP15 of the Convention on Biodiversity (COB), world leaders must thus help get back on track by agreeing to an ambitious global deal for nature. 

Elizabeth Wathuti, Environmental Youth Activist observed that  1.5C cannot be achieved without protecting nature, as this is the first line of defense against extreme weather events for the poorest.

 “COP27 may be over, but the fight for a safe future is not,” said Wathuti adding that “the interconnected food, nature, and climate crisis are right now affecting us all - but the frontline communities like mine are hardest hit.”

Rich countries still haven’t delivered the $100 billion (Sh12T) a year they promised in the face of rising litigation risks for governments and companies who are failing to comply with the Paris Agreement.

There have been over 2000 climate cases that have already set a legal precedent -proving that climate action is a legal duty, not a voluntary choice.