Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Last week gave the world a taste of what climate-vulnerable countries have long known: While rich countries are bending over backwards to pledge support for climate action, they are far less enthusiastic when it comes to shelling out the cash. .
At the COP27 UN climate summit, the US, the European Union and the UK are united against setting up a new fund this year to help the world’s developing nations – which have contributed little to the climate crisis – to recover from climate disasters.
The development of a so-called loss and damage fund is a key issue at COP27 and the summit’s “litmus test for success,” said Erin Roberts, climate policy researcher and founder of the Loss and Damage Collaboration.
As things stand, developing countries – which have been asking for funds for losses and damages for years – are facing disappointment.
With just three days left to finish negotiations, a sense of frustration is spreading in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh where the conference is taking place. Activists are staging daily and increasingly angry protests outside the negotiating rooms. In what was the largest protest of the summit so far on Saturday, hundreds of people marched through the sprawling conference venue, calling for rich countries to act together and “pay”.
But that message isn’t making it through in high-level negotiations.
An EU source directly involved in the summit negotiations told CNN on Tuesday that the bloc does not believe there should be a binding agreement on a new loss and damage fund before details of how it would work have been agreed.
The source added that the EU believes the COP27 deal could include an agreement that work needs to be done on the issue and a solution should be found by 2024.
Similarly, the UK government presented a paper at the conference saying it wants to establish a “process” leading to a concrete solution by 2024 at the latest.
Senior US administration officials only agreed to have a conversation about losses and damages, but went no further than explaining what kind of fund they would ultimately support. They too see 2024 as the deadline for an agreement on losses and damages, but do not support the proposals made so far, worried that in the coming years it could open developed nations to legal liability.
Pressed on what kind of loss and damage fund the United States would open, officials have repeatedly refused to say. And they want to spend the next couple of years sorting out those questions, rather than reaching an agreement this year.
A spokesman for US climate envoy John Kerry did not respond to a request for comment.
The push for delay by some of the world’s wealthiest countries means that those hardest hit by climate change are already setting themselves up for disappointment.
“I don’t want to leave COP27 empty-handed,” Maldives environment minister Shauna Aminath said during an event at the conference on Tuesday. “Agreeing to work on something that will be established in 2024 is leaving empty-handed”.
It was seen as a huge success that losses and damages made it onto the formal COP27 agenda, and developing nations are keeping rich countries’ feet on the fire and pushing for a binding commitment this year.
Negotiations on the issue have been intense, summit attendees told CNN, and dragged on late into the evening this week.
But developed countries are slowly addressing the issue: many want to use the next two years to explore possible solutions, with the proposal to take a decision by 2024, which does not guarantee an official financing deal.
In a tough economy, US and EU leaders fear they won’t be able to get this funding through national legislatures, where they’re already facing an uphill battle to raise more money to meet climate finance pledges .
But Aminath said he doesn’t believe the reluctance to face loss and damage is due to lack of funding.
“We have seen trillions being mobilized to address the global health emergency” during the pandemic, he said, and “we are seeing trillions being spent to help Ukraine.”
Representatives from vulnerable countries also told CNN they are frustrated with requests from rich nations for more analysis and mapping, which would cost money that could otherwise be used to address losses and damages.
“They wanted to show their constituents that they are doing something when they really aren’t,” Michai Robertson, head of loss and damage finance with the Alliance of Small Island States, told CNN. “They’re putting money into, for example, research departments, instead of actually allocating funding for specific responses to all the loss and damage we face.”
Despite the bleak outlook so far, Robertson said developing countries remain united and determined, noting that the last thing they want is to be stuck in another round of climate disaster, more debt and devastation, with no action on the part of developed countries.
“We don’t just want an opportunity to survive; we want opportunities to thrive,” she said.
A moment of hope for loss and damage came earlier this week when Germany announced a Global Shield initiative designed to help vulnerable countries deal with the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.
Flood-ravaged countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines will be among the countries to benefit when the program begins disbursing funds early next year.
While the funds allocated to the initiative were relatively large, they still pale in comparison to the devastation these countries have suffered.
For example, the World Bank estimated last month that Pakistan would need “at least $16.3 billion” to rebuild after deadly floods this summer. As of Monday, Global Shield had received total pledges of approximately $216 million.
The program has also been criticized due to its basic focus on insuring and preventing future loss and damage, rather than direct funding to address disasters that have already occurred and have recently occurred.
German Federal Development Minister Svenja Schulze stressed that the initiative is in addition to, not a replacement for, an official United Nations loss and damages fund.
“It’s been a good start, but it’s also just the beginning,” Schulze said at a Monday press conference, noting that the loss and damage was “a very contentious issue.”
“I am delighted that we, the international community, have finally come to say yes, there are climate-related losses and damages,” Schulze said.
Julie-Anne Richards, independent consultant and expert of the Loss and Damage Collaboration, said the Global Shield project is problematic.
“They’re addressing all these climate risks because rich countries like Australia and the US caused the climate problem, but now they’re outsourcing the management to vulnerable people, saying ‘it’s your responsibility to get insurance,'” Richards told the CNN.
Richards said she is concerned that countries are spending more time, effort and money creating a system that may not be able to adapt to the problem facing the planet. Vulnerable countries are already watching their islands sink into the ocean, food and water supplies dwindling rapidly due to drought, and homes inundated by floods.
“The Losses and Damage Facility needs to be set up in a way that provides grants, not lead to increased debt, and not shift the liability onto vulnerable countries,” Richards said. “So we need new money because of the scale of the problem. The climate impacts we are facing are significant and significant funding is needed.”