Source: New York Times
Year after year, calls have steadily grown louder for industrialized nations responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions already heating up the planet to own up to the problem — and pay for the damage.
Known by the term “loss and damage” — sterile code words crafted to avoid blame — such funding would be separate from money to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate, its proponents have argued. Loss and damage, they insist, is not charity — it’s what’s due. (The New York Times’s Climate Forward newsletter explores the issue further.)
At this year’s COP27 summit, for the first time, “funding arrangements” for loss and damage are included on the formal agenda, overcoming longstanding objections from the United States and the European Union.
“We are pleased that the parties were able to agree on an agenda item related to loss and damage,” a U.S. State Department press officer said Sunday evening.
“Damage,” which refers to the destruction of physical things like roads, homes and bridges, is relatively easy to quantify. “Loss” refers to economic impacts: lost work hours because of extreme heat, for instance, or lost agricultural revenues because rising sea levels flood paddy fields with saltwater, or lost tourism revenues because of a hurricane. That is harder to quantify.
Loss and damage was first championed by countries in the Pacific Ocean, and then embraced by a widening group of developing world countries. All the while, the real losses and damages kept piling up. Storms washed away crops. Droughts turned farmland to desert. Scientists got better at pinpointing the role of the warming planet in extreme weather.
As negotiators met at the climate summit in 2013 in Warsaw, Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped away homes and farms and killed more than 6,000 people in Southeast Asia.
In 2015, loss and damage was acknowledged in the Paris accord, the agreement among nations to jointly work to limit global warming, but not before the United States — historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gases — included specific language ruling out the prospect of liability and compensation.
A breakthrough came at the Madrid climate summit in 2019: an agreement to set up a technical assistance program. So far that consists of a website but no staff or funding.
At last year’s summit in Scotland, the United States signed a statement agreeing to “increase resources” for loss and damage, without committing to specifics. Then came record flooding in Pakistan last month, leaving what the World Bank estimated to be $30 billion in economic losses.
The issue represents the biggest fight at this year’s gathering, and even though it is finally on the formal agenda, the issue is far from settled: There’s no agreement on whether to set up a pot of money — and certainly no money yet.
While Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, recognized his country’s role in polluting, he said it did not have the finances “to make up for that with some kind of reparations.”
On Monday, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, issued an impassioned plea at the climate talks to help Pakistan and other vulnerable countries.
Standing in front of a sign that read “What goes on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan” at the country’s pavilion there, he said the recent deadly floods were a harbinger of disasters to come. “The international community has a duty to massively support Pakistan in this moment,” he said to applause.
“If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan,” Mr. Guterres said. He called on nations to create “a road map to deal with it.”
— Somini Sengupta and Lisa Friedman