COP27 climate talks: Is climate change aid for poor countries at risk?

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COP27 climate talks: Is loss and damage aid for vulnerable countries on the ropes?

This special COP27 briefing originally appeared on Nov. 14 in our flagship daily newsletter, Grid Today. Sign up for it here to get the context and consequences of the news in your inbox each day.


Is loss and damage on the ropes?

Loss and damage — the term of art for existing climate impacts and the coming unavoidable consequences — was hyped as the issue to watch for in the leadup to talks here in Sharm el-Sheikh. Finally, the rich world was starting to accept responsibility for creating the huge bulk of historic carbon dioxide emissions, and the idea that wealthy nations might soon compensate the developing world for the damage caused was finally on the table. This hype seemed well founded on day one, when the official COP27 agenda included loss and damage, a historic first.

Well, not so fast. As the COP negotiations enter the home stretch, there are signs that a substantive agreement may be hard to come by.

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“So far what we’re hearing is more deceptive tactics, more obfuscation,” said Rachel Cleetus, a policy director with the Union of Concerned Scientists, during a press event here. Many rich countries, she added, are acting like just getting the topic on the agenda was the victory.

“We really need to see a shift” in the conversation, said Rachel Simon of Climate Action Network Europe. She noted that while the European Union negotiates as a bloc, there are wide divisions between countries on this issue — France, for example, is blocking the creation of a “loss and damage facility,” or a dedicated funding mechanism through which the money could flow, as is the U.S. Both countries have expressed support for the concept — but with only a few days of negotiation left and that opposition to a more concrete proposal potentially spreading, the situation seems grim.

What is left unsaid

At an “informal stocktaking” on Monday morning, COP27 President Sameh Shoukry said he hopes that the text of this meeting’s eventual agreement will start taking shape by this evening — but there is buzz around the COP that a few key items could be left out of the text.

The first and probably most disappointing of these is the ambitious 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) target. Initially enshrined in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and reaffirmed in last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, the growing concern that limiting global average warming to 1.5 degrees is out of reach could be pushing some countries to back off its inclusion in the official text.

“There are very few countries, but a few, that have raised the issue of not mentioning this word or that word,” confirmed U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry during a press conference on Saturday. This would be a massive backslide from the global community, yet Kerry seemed optimistic. “Egypt doesn’t intend to be the country that hosts a retreat from what was achieved in Glasgow,” he said.

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The other major achievement last year in Glasgow was the first-ever mention of fossil fuels in these agreements: specifically, the goal of a “phase-down” of coal use. There are reports that some countries, India chief among them, want new language in this year’s agreement to specify a phase-down of all fossil fuels, instead of just coal. This, though clearly the baseline goal of any honest effort to stop climate change, is a tall ask at these meetings; after all, I’m writing from the Middle East, a region whose economy is largely based on oil and gas extraction, and many countries will balk at such language.

Again, there are whispers and questions around the COP that this fight may end up with all mention of fossil fuels — coal or otherwise — on the cutting room floor. These are all tentative, of course, and the final text is still days away even if Friday’s official deadline is met — which it often isn’t.

Overheard at the COP

On Saturday, I heard an interesting tidbit from a delegate from Ghana: The technical guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for assessing climate change adaptation have not been updated in the 28 years since their publication. He noted that the guidelines on mitigation — how to reduce emissions rather than adapt to climate change’s impacts — have been updated eight times in that period.

This merely highlights how adaptation has been left behind in global climate efforts. Even at the most recent count, the huge bulk of climate finance has gone to mitigation, though in recent years there has been a drumbeat of calls for 50 percent of that money to focus on adaptation.

“We’re hard at work”

Among the various U.S. delegations here were a cadre of senators who have made climate change a particular focus: Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. During a press conference on Saturday, the trio touted the recent legislative climate wins including the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as a new focus on climate justice. When asked what changed to spur this work on, Whitehouse said it is because “the voters threw out Trump and his pack of fossil fuel-funded climate deniers. … Elections have consequences. The climate deniers were thrown out, and we’re hard at work.”

  • Dave Levitan
    Dave Levitan

    Climate Reporter

    Dave Levitan is a climate reporter for Grid where he focuses on interconnected stories about climate and science, and politics shaping action around both.