Nov 3, 2022 - World

Rich countries pressed to pay for driving climate change

A woman removes water from her flooded home in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Adeyinka Yusuf/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The question of what the rich countries that contributed most to climate change might owe poorer ones now suffering the consequences — not just as a philosophical exercise, but in dollars and cents — looms over the upcoming COP27 climate summit.

Why it matters: With world leaders and climate negotiators preparing to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from Nov. 6-18, UN Secretary-General António Guterres today said "getting concrete results on 'loss and damage'" will be the summit's key "litmus test."

  • The issue has long bitterly divided developing countries on the front lines of climate change and developed ones like the U.S., which has historically avoided discussions of what are sometimes called "climate reparations," Axios’ Andrew Freedman notes.
  • This time around, Pakistan and Nigeria — which both suffered hundreds of deaths and billions in damage from devastating floods this year — will be among the countries trying to focus attention on climate-related compensation.
  • "We do see a general acceptance that loss and damage must in some form be addressed," Egyptian climate negotiator Mohamed Nasr said ahead of the summit. "The difficulty, as usual, is in the details; how do we define and finance this?"

At previous summits, funding debates have centered on helping countries transition to cleaner energy and adapt to the effects of climate change, two topics that will also be on the agenda.

  • Yes, but: "If you’re a pastoralist in Northern Kenya and your livestock get decimated by devastating droughts, or your home in Mozambique is destroyed by Cyclone Idai, these are not things that can be adapted to," notes Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. "They are permanent losses for which you deserve to be compensated."

COP27 has been dubbed "The African COP" because the Egyptian hosts are focusing on the concerns of developing countries, particularly in Africa.

  • African nations and "African-descended populations" are often those "who are least responsible for climate change and who are suffering the most," Adrienne Hollis, vice president of environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation, tells Axios.
  • Africa has contributed around 3% of the world’s cumulative CO₂ emissions, versus 25% for the U.S. and 18% for EU countries. But other than small island states, nearly all of the countries considered most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa.

State of play: The U.S. and EU have both said they’re prepared to discuss loss and damage, but they haven't committed to any specific funding mechanism.

  • U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told the New Yorker, "We’re embracing the fact that we have to come up with something." But he has also suggested this is the start of a multiyear conversation — hardly what developing countries want to hear.
  • Between the lines: The midterms fall right at the beginning of COP27. Even if President Biden wanted to prioritize climate compensation for the developing world, a Republican-led House would be unlikely to fund it.

The bottom line: Loss and damage may play a more central role at COP27 than at any previous climate summit, but talking alone won't satisfy anyone.

  • As an official from Barbados put it this week: "We need actual money."
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