In Egypt, olive crops wither under severe heat waves. In Fiji, entire villages retreat inland to escape the rising waters. In Pakistan, floods this summer killed 1,700 people and left a third of the country under water.
They are among dozens of developing countries facing irreversible damage from climate change but doing little to cause the crisis. And they demand reparations from the parties they see as responsible: the richer nations that have burned oil, gas and coal for decades and created the pollution that is dangerously warming the planet.
Across cultures and centuries, the idea that if you damage your neighbor’s property, you owe compensation is a common one, found even in the Bible.
But both legally and in practice, it has been very difficult to apply this principle to climate change. Rich countries such as the United States and the European Union have opposed the idea of explicitly compensating poor countries for climate disasters already underway, fearing that it would expose them to unlimited liability.
as such UN climate talks Opening Sunday in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the discussion about losses and damages will be front and center. Egypt, the host country, and Pakistan, which leads a group of 77 developing countries, have succeeded in putting the issue on the official agenda for the first time.
Simon Steele, the UN’s climate chief, said the decision to include it on the agenda “augurs well” for a compromise by the end of the summit.
The issue is inevitable this year, as leaders from nearly 200 countries gather on the African continent, where millions are at risk of starvation due to drought intensified by climate change. And advances in science allowed researchers to determine the number The role that global warming plays in disasters, reinforcing the argument that rich countries have Half of all greenhouse gases have been emitted since 1850You bear a great responsibility.
Discussing the devastating floods in the country, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said in September: “What we seek is not charity, not alms, not help – but justice.” Scientists say exacerbated by global warming. “Thirty-three million Pakistanis today are pushing their lives and livelihoods for industrialization in larger countries.”
Last year, rich countries pledged $40 billion annually by 2025 to help poor countries with climate adaptation measures such as building flood defenses. But the UN report It is estimated that this is less than a fifth of what developing countries need. This has led to increased calls for separate loss and damage funding to deal with the consequences of climate disasters from which countries cannot protect themselves.
Facing mounting pressure, John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, agreed to discuss the idea of financing loss and damage — a move that helped avoid a bitter battle over the summit’s agenda.
But this is a far cry from agreeing to a new fund. The US has already fallen behind on its previous promises to help poor countries switch to cleaner energy or adapt to climate threats by building seawalls, for example. Last year, Senate Democrats sought $3.1 billion in climate funding for 2022 but only got $1 billion. As Republicans, who largely oppose climate aid, prepare to make gains in Tuesday’s midterm elections, the prospects for the new money look bleak.
“The political basis simply does not exist,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, adding that he believed the United States had a “moral responsibility” to address the loss and damage.
Europeans worry that if they agree to a fund, they may be left holding the bag if the next US president rejects the idea.
What does loss and damage look like?
In Turkana, a semi-arid region of northwest Kenya that is among the poorest in the country, the losses and damages are far from abstract.
The region is now experiencing its fourth consecutive year of severe drought and some scientists We see a long-term drying trend. Most of Turkana’s 900,000 people are herders who make their living raising livestock and have seen herds die due to lack of water. Half of the population faces starvation. Some herders crossed the border into Uganda or South Sudan in search of greener pastures, resulting in violent conflicts.
Local officials made urgent plans to adapt: dig more wells to tap into aquifers, build dams to store water when it rains, and help people switch to more resilient forms of agriculture. But money is an obstacle. Clement Ndio, Turkana County Climate Change Manager, said the full plan could cost about $200 million a year, double the county’s annual budget.
This has left Turkana extremely vulnerable in the current crisis. Officials are struggling to deliver emergency food aid this year, leaving fewer resources to cope with future droughts.
“Now we need to focus on saving lives, and dealing with malnutrition,” Mr. Nadio said. But we also need to focus on making people more resilient to future climate shocks. We do our best. But we can’t do all of that with the funding we have.”
While the United Nations has not officially identified losses and damages, they may include devastation caused by severe weather exacerbated by global warming. in 2019, Hurricane Dorian The Bahamas inundated, bringing winds up to 185 mph and 23 feet of storms that destroyed homes, roads and the airport. Damage: $3.4 billion, a quarter of the country’s economy.
It may also include slow-moving losses that are difficult to quantify, as in the case of salt farmers in Bangladesh who lost their jobs due to high tides and torrential rains hampering production, or communities in Micronesia I saw ancient tombs Get stuck in the crawling oceans.
“If we cut emissions early enough, we will not have to adapt, and if we adapt early enough, we will not suffer losses and damages,” said Avinash Persaud, advisor to the Prime Minister of Barbados. “But we didn’t act early enough, so now we have to do all three.”
Since the tariffs are so extensive, it is difficult to calculate the amount of financial losses and damages that may ensue. One Studies are often cited It is estimated that developing countries could suffer between $290 billion and $580 billion in annual climate damage by 2030, even after adaptation efforts. That could rise to $1.7 trillion by 2050.
In the past, rich nations have suggested that such disasters can be mitigated through humanitarian aid or existing insurance.
Developing countries say this is unacceptable. by some estimatesMore than half of UN appeals for donations after weather disasters have already gone unfulfilled. Insurance is not suitable for homes that will soon be swallowed up by rising seas. Instead, poor nations had to take on debts to rebuild.
Without funding earmarked for loss and damage, the climate impacts . said Leah Nicholson, AOSIS Senior Advisor It will force the island nations “Into unsustainable debts, it halts development and makes us hostages to random acts of charity.”
A political battle is looming
With so much money at stake, discussions about losses and damages in Egypt are sure to be contentious.
Behind the scenes, US officials say they are concerned that the new fund may be ill-defined and impractical.
Some rich countries also say that China, which is currently the world’s largest emitter, as well as exporters of fossil fuels such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, should contribute. This could lead to a major battle, as those countries have not traditionally been held responsible for climate aid.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that every aspect is etched in: developing nations and activists view loss and damage as a matter of justice while rich nations rants at the idea of blame.
Mr. Kerry acknowledged the United States, which has burned coal to generate electricity since the 1880s and It is the biggest historical impulse, take responsibility for climate change. But he also argued that by the 1980s, when governments widely agreed that carbon dioxide emissions from oil, gas and coal were warming the planet, emerging nations were also burning fossil fuels.
“If you want to measure from there, at the rate that we’re tracking, two countries have the potential to exceed our historical emissions,” Kerry said. “Yes, we burned coal and did that. But guess who burned coal? Every one of those other countries. Are they exempt?”
Tough issues await us
If states agree, at least in principle, to create a loss and damage fund, they will have to delve into the difficult issues: who deserves help and how much? How do we ensure that money is spent in ways that benefit the people who need it most?
David Michael Terungwa is President of the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Conservation in Nigeria. He recently learned that a friend’s house had been flooded in Benue State Floods displaced more than 100,000 people The destruction of 140 thousand hectares of agricultural land.
“I spoke with a young man who lost all his chickens in the floods,” said Mr. Terongwa. “If there is one thing, climate insurance, it can be recovered and he can start his life again or start a business. When we discuss losses and damages, that’s what I think of, local farmers.”
But he also said he was concerned that governments would use the money to simply rebuild in vulnerable areas that would be swept away in disasters in the future.
Developing countries say such questions are no reason for inaction. The first step is to agree that loss and damage financing must exist; Details can be worked out later.
For now, the losses continue.
Hassan Abu Bakr, a professor of agriculture at Cairo University who owns an olive grove outside the city, said he has sunk into depression because frequent heat waves have destroyed his crops by depriving them of the “winter hours” they need to thrive. This year, his olives were smaller than ever, and most of them were rejected on the market.
“Climate change is not something that will happen in the future,” he said. “She’s here and now and she’s hitting us.”
Compensation may help, but Mr. Abu Bakr’s concerns go beyond that.
“You can donate money, but what about olive trees?” He said. “We need to save the trees.”
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