Cop27: Loss and damage fund hailed but emissions targets disappoint

Delegates at “Africa’s Cop” in Sharm El-Sheikh welcomed a rich world plan to fund loss and damage recovery for developing nations but rued a lack of breakthrough on binding global emissions targets.

Image : JOSEPH EID/AFP

The Cop27 climate summit at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt ended with a flagship agreement among richer countries to fund a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable nations hit by climate change.

The announcement, following days of tense negotiations, is likely to be welcomed as an important victory for African nations at an event hosted on the continent for the first time in five years that came to be known as “Africa’s Cop”.

Richer nations agreed to establish new funding arrangements and a dedicated fund to assist developing countries in responding to “loss and damage”, as well as a transitional committee to make recommendations on how to operationalise the new funding arrangements and the fund at Cop28 next year. The first meeting of the transitional committee is expected to take place before the end of March 2023.

Mohamed Adow, executive director at climate action organisation Power Shift Africa welcomed the loss and damage fund. 

“Cop27 has done what no other Cop has achieved and created a loss and damage fund to support the most impacted communities of climate change. This has been something which 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.  It’s worth noting that we have the fund but we need money to make it worthwhile. What we have is an empty bucket. Now we need to fill it so that support can flow to the most impacted people who are suffering right now at the hands of the climate crisis.”

According to the UN, loss and damage arising from the adverse effects of climate change can include those related to extreme weather events but also slow onset events, such as sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinisation, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification.

Parties also agreed on institutional arrangements for the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, which will catalyse technical assistance to developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Lack of agreement on stricter emissions targets

However, UN secretary-general António Guterres was disappointed by a lack of agreement on stricter emissions targets. A failure to meet the current target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will disproportionately affect the African continent. While governments reiterated their support for the goal, critics said that more needs to be done to avert ecological disaster.

“A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition,” he said.

stark report from UN Climate Change found that implementation of current pledges by national governments put the world on track for a 2.5°C warmer world by the end of the century. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that greenhouse gas emissions must decline 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalise it in the coming period. Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust… We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address.”

Nevertheless, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, president of Cop27, was bullish on the meeting’s achievements.

“The work that we’ve managed to do here in the past two weeks, and the results we have together achieved, are a testament to our collective will, as a community of nations, to voice a clear message that rings loudly today, here in this room and around the world: that multilateral diplomacy still works…. despite the difficulties and challenges of our times, the divergence of views, level of ambition or apprehension, we remain committed to the fight against climate change…. We rose to the occasion, upheld our responsibilities and undertook the important decisive political decisions that millions around the world expect from us.”

Recognition of need for developing world cash

The establishment of the fund represents a tacit admission by richer nations that support for the developing world has been inadequate to rise to the enormous challenges of climage change.

“This outcome moves us forward, we have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change,” said Simon Stiell, UN climate change executive secretary.

The talks, he said, had “not been easy at all. But this historic outcome does move us forward and it benefits the vulnerable people around the world.”

Serious concern was expressed throughout the conference that a pledge by developed countries to mobilise $100bn per year in climate finance by 2020 has not been met. The Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan highlighted that a global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investments of at least $4-6 trillion a year, requiring a swift and comprehensive transformation of the financial system and its structures and processes.

Still, new pledges totalling more than $230m were made to the Adaptation Fund at Cop27 to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. The conference also saw the launch of the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, which is intended to boost resilience for people living in the most climate-vulnerable communities by 2030, and the launch of a new five-year work programme to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries.

Africa’s fight for climate justice continues

But some financing decisions were deferred to future Cops. Discussions continue on setting a “new collective quantified goal on climate finance” in 2024, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries. The UN Climate Change’s Standing Committee on Finance was requested to prepare a report on doubling adaptation finance for consideration at Cop28 next year. Governments agreed on the way to move forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation, which will conclude at Cop28 and inform the first Global Stocktake, which is intended to improve resilience amongst the most vulnerable.

Activists said that more must be done if “Africa’s Cop” is to be deemed a success. 

“COP27 was meant to be the ‘African COP’ where loss and damage was the unignorable issue, and years of pressure from vulnerable countries and activists have moved us closer to where we need to be,” said Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “But we will not have justice until money starts to flow to vulnerable communities, so there is much work still to do. Young people have been central to this effort, even though we were not able to have our voices heard loudly at COP27 because of restrictions on protest. Our movement is growing and young people in every country are demanding more of those in power.”

Speaking to UN News, Kenyan environmental youth activist Elizabeth Wathuti, said that Africa’s fight for climate justice continues. 

“Cop27 may be over, but the fight for a safe future is not. It is now more urgent than ever that political leaders work to agree a strong global deal to protect and restore nature at the upcoming Global Biodiversity Summit in Montreal. The interconnected food, nature and climate crisis are right now affecting us all – but the frontline communities like mine are hardest hit. How many alarm bells need to be sounded before we act?” 

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