Representatives from governments worldwide will gather this upcoming weekend in a last-ditch effort to address the significant disparities between wealthy and developing nations concerning the distribution of financial aid to support vulnerable populations affected by climate change.
The discussions surrounding finances allocated for “loss and damage,” intended to provide rescue and rehabilitation for countries and communities facing the repercussions of extreme weather events, began in March but recently stalled amidst discord.
Delegates have reconvened in Abu Dhabi for a two-day conference set to conclude on Saturday night. The aim is to find common ground on the outstanding issues before the commencement of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), scheduled to start at the end of the month in the United Arab Emirates.
Crucial preparations for COP28
Stakeholders in the climate action community consider this weekend’s meeting critical, as they fear that a lack of broad consensus could bog down the comprehensive COP negotiations. The success of the new loss and damage fund hinges on closing the trust gap, setting the fund into operation, and providing crucial support to the most vulnerable individuals who desperately need it.
Harjeet Singh, the head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International (CAN International), stressed that millions of lives and livelihoods are at stake, making the meeting a “make-or-break moment” for the fund’s success.
Stumbling Blocks and Divisions
The central challenge revolves around striking a balance between wealthy countries advocating for voluntary cash contributions from emerging economies, including large countries such as China and petrostates like those in the Gulf, alongside traditional donors such as the United States and Europe. Developing countries remain concerned about fund governance and equitable access to the rescue funds they urgently require.
All countries worldwide concurred to establish a loss and damage fund at the 27th Conference of the Parties, which took place in Egypt last year. This marked a historic achievement that developing countries had been pursuing for more than ten years. These countries, which have contributed the least to the climate crisis, continue to bear the brunt of extreme weather events due to their geographical location, fragile infrastructure, and limited resources.
Recent climate-induced events, such as the devastating floods in Pakistan and the crippling drought in the Horn of Africa, could have benefited from loss and damage payments. As the planet’s average temperature continues to rise, scientists predict a surge in natural disasters, necessitating hundreds of billions of dollars annually to repair the damages.
Key Points of Disagreement
The primary points of contention revolve around the fund’s administration, contributor selection, access, and financing.
- Fund Administration: Developed countries, especially the United States, advocate for hosting the fund within the World Bank, citing its existing infrastructure for swift fund collection and distribution. However, many activists contend that the motivation behind this decision is a desire for greater influence in exchange for sizable financial contributions. They point out the World Bank’s overheads and handling of climate finance, emphasizing the need for effective aid.
- Access to the Fund: Countries have largely reached a consensus that priority should be given to the most vulnerable individuals in developing countries. The term “most vulnerable” could refer to anyone who has experienced a significant impact from climate change, including larger developing nations.
- Financial Responsibility: Wealthy nations are expected to bear the cost, attributed to their “historic responsibility” for greenhouse gas emissions. Potential funding sources include carbon offsets, private sector contributions, and innovative measures like a frequent flyer surcharge. Dividing financial responsibilities between large emerging economies (e.g., China, India, and South Korea) and petrostates (e.g., Saudi Arabia and the UAE) raises concerns, as these countries were categorized as developing nations in 1992.
Amidst these disagreements, participants hold strong opinions about the fund’s location and funding sources, while the criteria for accessing the fund remain a subject of debate. The future of the loss and damage fund hinges on governments’ ability to forge a compromise to deliver equitable support to those affected by climate change.
Lien Vandamme, a senior activist at the Centre for International Environmental Law, reiterated the need for wealthy nations to change their stance on negotiations. The upcoming summit’s success depends on a substantial shift in the attitude of rich countries toward these negotiations, as the rights of vulnerable communities must be upheld even in the event of a breakdown in talks.