Developing countries feel 'betrayed' by rushed negotiations at COP27

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COP27 climate talks: Negotiations mad dash has developing countries feeling ‘betrayed’

This special COP27 briefing originally appeared on Nov. 17 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.


As this round of climate talks enters the home stretch, the lack of apparent progress on the biggest issue here — a fund to address loss and damage for poor and vulnerable countries — prompted a spur-of-the-moment press conference from representatives of the G-77, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the bloc of Least Developed Countries, and the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC).

“We felt that we could build on [last year’s talks in] Glasgow, and one of the building blocks was to establish a loss and damage fund. That was clearly stated, and that is clearly the expectation,” said Molwyn Joseph, the minister for health, wellness, and environment for Antigua and Barbuda, speaking for AOSIS. “Anything less than establishing a loss and damage fund at this COP is a betrayal.”

The group’s overall message was that at the very minimum, the world needs to emerge from Egypt having established at least the concept of such a fund, as a demonstration of the political will to move forward with it. The details — where the money will come from, how it will be spent and so on — can be dealt with later.

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“It may not unleash a slew of finances suddenly,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change, speaking for the G-77 bloc of 134 developing countries. “Give us a political message that we are all willing to take this forward as a community of countries and nations.”

While there is general consensus that a loss and damage fund should exist, some rich countries are still holding up the tangible creation of such a fund due to a variety of concerns. They include the fact that in some places like the U.S., actually appropriating money that amounts to reparations for other countries is likely not in the cards. The latest draft text of an agreement contains extensive language on loss and damage, though under a heading regarding the funding arrangements it reads ominously: “{Placeholder for relevant outcomes from the ongoing negotiations}.”

As I wrote in yesterday’s newsletter, there is little indication that the COP will end on schedule. The obvious frustration of the developing world delegates here only underscores the impasse; negotiators are in for a long couple of nights before this is over.

An updated social cost of carbon

A few days ago here, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, noted that buried within the new Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule on methane was an update to how the agency calculates and uses the social cost of carbon.

“It may be, quietly, the most important thing that the U.S. has announced here at this conference,” he told the press.

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The social cost of carbon is a dollar figure representing how much harm is caused to society by the emission of 1 ton of carbon (in carbon dioxide, or methane, or other greenhouse gases). I reached out to Whitehouse to hear more on why this update, which would set a baseline of $120 per ton (with potential variation based on details of how it is calculated), was so important.

“This new $120 per ton social cost of carbon can be a game-changer if broadly applied across government decision-making,” he told me. “Federal agencies will make better-informed choices about rule-making, procurement, investments and other policies if they take the true costs of pollution into account.”

One way this manifests is with regulations like the methane rule, where an accurate carbon price can properly demonstrate a policy’s costs and benefits. During the Obama years, a social cost of $43 was used initially; the Trump administration decided to magic away emissions-related damage and set it at below $10 per ton. The Biden administration began with a $51 price, so this update would mean the EPA is now considering each ton of emissions to be more than twice as damaging as it did previously.

Overheard at the COP

At an event for young African climate activists, one speaker shouted something along the lines of: “We don’t want to be doing COPs forever!” She received enthusiastic cheers.

This got me thinking: Under what circumstances will these annual climate conferences stop?

The original U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — the UNFCCC, under whose auspices all the COPs have taken place — actually provides something of an answer. Article 2 of the 1992 document states that the ultimate objective is to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Of course, that ship has long since sailed: Greenhouse gas concentrations have already caused dangerous interference with the climate system, and as I’ve written about before, even bringing global emissions to zero today will still bring more such interference in the coming decades.

So maybe the key is to focus on the term “stabilization.” Some rosy future where emissions have dropped to zero and gases in the atmosphere have come down toward a livable plateau would represent a victory under that original charter.

At the moment, such a future isn’t exactly hiding just over the horizon. So while those youth activists may not be attending COPs “forever,” it will be a while before the same logic that got the conferences started could reasonably put an end to them.

  • 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.