The United Nations climate conference ended Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with no formal commitment to phase out all fossil fuels, the main source of global warming.
But climate change activists could claim at least one victory: the wealthiest countries, which are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, have agreed to compensate developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters while they do little to cause global warming.
The creation of a loss and damage fund has been a welcome development for poorer countries that have long been crying out for money to help them cope with storms, floods, heat waves, droughts and , in some cases, to the slow sinking of their territory.
“Three long decades and we have finally delivered climate justice,” said Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s finance minister, according to The Associated Press. “We have finally answered the call of hundreds of millions of people around the world to help them deal with loss and damage.”
The deal was struck despite initial reluctance from the United States, historically the world’s biggest polluter. Indeed, at the start of the summit, the country’s special climate envoy, John Kerry, rejected any “sort of legal structure related to compensation or liability”.
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The United States was “the most vocal” against the creation of such a fund and was seen as “the main obstacle to progress”, says Ashfaq Khalfan, director of climate justice at Oxfam America.
But the United States came under pressure to change its position after the European Union approved the plan, leaving the nation virtually alone in its dissent. And in an eleventh-hour pivot, the country finally agreed to the measure along with nearly 200 other nations at the conference, also known as COP27.
The idea of helping poorer countries hard hit by climate change has been around for some time.
In fact, in 2009, at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, developed countries pledged to give $100 billion a year in climate aid to middle- and low-income countries by 2020. ‘they claim to reach $83.3 billion, a recent Oxfam report alleges they provided about a quarter of that funding, intended to help poor countries develop green energy and adapt to future warming .
The subject returned to the discussion table at last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, where countries pledged to open a formal dialogue on the issue.
Sunday’s decision established a “transition committee” to discuss funding mechanisms, with the first meeting scheduled for no later than the end of March next year.
According to a UN announcement, contributions would fall first on developed countries, as well as public and private donors, such as the World Bank. However, the United States and the European Union are pushing for major emitters like China – technically classified as developing countries – to also be responsible for financing, regardless of their designation.
Yet the recipients of the funding remain largely undisputed: the low-income nations most affected by climate change.
Even if the details are ironed out at next year’s climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, many countries would still need approval from their respective governing bodies to distribute aid. In countries like the United States, where the legislature is politically divided, the deal could prove a tough sell.
Although the loss and damage fund marked the victory of one fight, some climate activists and representatives felt they had lost another: the effort to secure a global commitment to reduce all fossil fuels. .
The final deal called for a gradual reduction in coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and affirmed the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But he went no further, calling for a phase-out of all fossil fuels, including oil and gas.
“What we have before us is not enough of a step forward for people and the planet,” a disappointed European Union executive vice president Frans Timmermans told fellow negotiators, according to The Associated. Press. “This does not bring enough additional efforts on the part of large emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions reductions.
“We all failed in actions to avoid and minimize loss and damage,” Timmermans said. “We should have done a lot more.”