Initial apprehensions aside, parties were able to negotiate a last-minute breakthrough
he COP27 brought parties together at Sharm el Sheikh to rigorously negotiate on the needs to address the worsening issue of climate change. The main points of the agenda were to see through greater ambition on mitigation, adaptation to climate change, and to strongly push forward action on loss and damage. The takeaway was the extension of the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities to the loss and damage.
Pakistan was at the forefront of climate-induced disasters this year, facing one of the most devastating floods in its history affecting approximately 33 million people. A quick snapshot of the loss and damage shows 500,000 hectares of crop land destroyed (spelling out food insecurity in the near future), 800,000 homes destroyed, 45,000 homes damaged and more than 26,000 schools damaged, leaving a huge demand for infrastructure development. Initial estimates indicate a cost of $30 billion as a result of the losses and damage resulting from the floods. This loss and damage is irreversible climate-related devastation that cannot be mitigated or adapted to. Five months later, the situation remains grave. The stagnant water has given rise to spread of diseases like dengue fever, malaria and cholera. 650,000 women need maternity care in the flood affected areas. It is feared that infant mortality and child birth defects will rise.
Keeping this in view, on November 15, WWF-Pakistan presented its Climate Crises Charter at a media briefing at COP27, developed after consultations with the Ministry of Climate Change, Ministry of Planning and Development, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, International Water Management Institute and other relevant stakeholders. The aim was to highlight loss and damage and the urgent need for a nationwide risk management and vulnerability assessment that could then strengthen the local land use plans and zoning regulations. It emphasised the development of a functional local government system to facilitate climate adaptation initiatives. It also called for an integrated approach in terms of risk perception and risk management with a particular focus on nature-based solutions.
Pakistan alongside other climate-vulnerable countries advocated for an independent funding facility for costs incurred from climate-induced loss and damage, separated from the existing “under-funded” climate adaptation financing mechanisms. The role played by parties, non-party actors like civil society activists, campaigners and indigenous communities created much-needed pressure on ground in the blue zone calling out climate injustice, and the presence of fossil fuel lobbies that were obstructing progress of negotiations. Countries emitting the most amount of GHGs, the impacts of which will continue to affect the countries at climate risk, should pay this climate debt.
Despite initial apprehensions, parties were able to negotiate and a last-minute breakthrough was seen. Parties at COP27 took the decision to establish new funding arrangements, as well as a dedicated fund to assist developing countries in responding to loss and damage. As the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell rightly put, “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.”
Much of the discussion around it has been left for COP28, for which a transitional committee has been established. Its first meeting will be held in March 2023 to discuss the operationalisation of the finance mechanism that will include transparency, accountability, and monitoring, while making funds accessible and sustainable. Climate change is happening now, so the compensation of the loss and damage should not be delayed any further.
Federal Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman, who was speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 (G77) plus China during the negotiations, finally said that an outcome on loss and damage was “close”. “Not perfect or optimal, but one that addresses the basic demand of developing nations,“ she said.
There remained a lack of ambition regarding keeping alive the goal of 1.5 degrees, which took the centre stage at Glasgow last year. Very little progress on phasing out fossil fuels was made, which is key to achieving global climate goals and net zero, leaving much to be desired. Similarly, there were mixed results on the decisions relating to nature and ecosystems. Although the synergy of tackling the climate and biodiversity crises as “one” was recognised, it did not go far enough. Nature-based solutions must also be added to the equation to enhance climate mitigation and adaptation.
COP27 saw little by way of new dedicated funding for food systems from governments. By contrast, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to spend $1.4 billion over four years to help smallholding farmers address the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change. Every time the world delays action, more people will suffer, creating complexities that will need more funds.
Overall, it was a despairing replay of the previous COPs, where commitments remained unfulfilled. Case in point: the $100 billion per year till 2020 pledge (pledged in the Paris Agreement), where progress remains underwhelming. Much like the (lack) of ambition to cut down emissions, spelling out the continuation of more climate disasters for vulnerable countries.
All in all, this stipulates an urgent need for parties to develop mechanisms that are transparent and sustain the needs of frontline communities. The creation of the loss and damage fund may not be perfect, but it remains a welcome move in the right direction for countries like Pakistan, who have journeyed through numerous catastrophes in thirty long years, from demanding a facility to its creation at COP27. Moreover, it provides a long overdue acknowledgement of the moral responsibility that polluters must take to curb the climate emergency. Likewise, COP15 to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal next month brings forth another opportunity for global entities to build up on ambition and shift towards action on ground.
As we wait, and continue to advocate for practical efforts in the coming year (as the transitional committee springs into action on loss and damage), we must take this moment to celebrate the achievements that transpired through the tireless efforts of global climate champions giving us a ray of hope.
The writer is climate and energy senior manager at WWF-Pakistan