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Rich countries paying for climate loss still looks like a distant dream

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Various reports point to the fact that climate change has been caused by rich nations and therefore poor countries have started to demand compensation for climate change, which has had a negative impact on them.

The upcoming COP27, the UN climate talks due to be held in Egypt in November, could shed light on the system of compensation for the poorest countries, known as “loss and damage”, caused by climate change. It is a fact, corroborated by various United Nations and independent reports, that climate change over the past 25 years in particular has caused costly damage, including drought, rising heat, less or more rain, tropical cyclones and more gradual changes, such as desertification and sea level rise. levels around the world. It has been proven that these changes can be attributed to the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Rich industrialized countries are responsible for most of the emissions that cause these phenomena.

Losses and damages

The poorest countries, to the extent that they are unable to take timely corrective measures to mitigate these changes caused by others in the past, are the first to face the negative effects of climate change. Thus, the new concept of “loss and damage” began to take root among them.

Under this new concept, they demand adequate financial assistance to take remedial action to mitigate these changes, caused by rich, industrialized countries in the past. Now they are redefining it as a matter of liability and compensation, rather than aid after a particular natural disaster. Loss and damage is also referred to as the “third pillar” of climate change policy, after mitigation (addressing the root cause of the problem by reducing emissions) and adaptation (preparing for current and future).

However, developed countries have opposed this since the 1990s when the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was being drafted, calling it totally implausible. Meanwhile, a group of island nations had proposed the creation of an international insurance fund to compensate low-lying countries for damage caused by rising sea levels.

The Economist magazine reports that in 2015, during the talks, which resulted in the adoption of the Paris Agreement, developing countries again demanded a strong clause on the financing of losses and damages. But they ended up with only a vague reference to the question. And concrete actions were left for future discussion, so the Egypt summit once again offers a chance to develop a concrete policy and action plan on the issue.

Positive actions

Denmark recently pledged just over $13 million to developing countries that have suffered damage from climate change and other developed countries may follow suit.

Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon at COP26 in Glasgow last November pledged £2 million ($2.7 million) as a one-time payment for loss and damage, apparently hoping that other wealthy countries might follow suit, but they did not.

But the pressure for them to do so is growing. Last month, ministers of a 46-member alliance known as the Least Developed Countries Alliance (LDCA) called the creation of a financial mechanism for loss and damage a “fundamental priority” for the COP27. At the United Nations General Assembly last month, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suggested that windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies could provide the funding.

But is easier said than done and may not happen at all. There is a complete lack of enthusiasm among developed countries for such payments. Some developing countries are temporarily seeking redress through international law.

On September 22, the UN Human Rights Committee ordered the Australian government to compensate indigenous people living on the Torres Strait Islands, which are being eroded by rising seas. This may be the first time such a payment has been ordered. The Australian government seemed sympathetic to the plight of the islanders. But it remains to be seen whether that will translate into cash, let alone costly acceptance of liability. Therefore, a comprehensive framework for loss and damage still seems a distant prospect.

Disasters in the developed world

Meanwhile, the developed world is not immune to the vagaries of climate change either. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Ian, which recently left behind a trail of billions of dollars in damage, are on the rise in the United States. Hurricane Ian, which hit parts of Florida and South Carolina, is estimated to be the latest in a growing trend of billion-dollar disasters in the United States.

Compared to the period between 1980 and 2021, when the average of these events was 7.7, the last five years have seen an increase to 17.8 of these events per year. Last year marked the seventh consecutive year in which ten disasters or more than $1 billion hit the United States. By July this year, there had already been nine such disasters.

It has been reported that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May 2022 has reached a level not seen for millions of years, and which is more than 50% higher than in the pre-industrial era. Heat trapped by carbon dioxide and other human-produced greenhouse gases has increased the global average temperature. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, climate change is “amplifying the increasing frequency and intensity” of extreme weather events. It causes greater variability in precipitation, lengthens the wildfire season in the American West, increases vulnerability to drought, and leads to larger storm surges as sea levels rise. Given the relentless buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, 2022 is likely a harbinger of more severe weather to come.

To reduce these natural accidents that happen again and again, developed and developing countries must adopt practices that rapidly reduce and remove heat-trapping emissions from the atmosphere to limit extremes of warming.

In addition, they will have to switch to greener energy sources instead of fossil fuels, which have been a major contributor to green gas emissions. But at the same time, they will also have to adopt and put into practice policies that mitigate the damage in the poorest countries, instead of just offering ad hoc aid to ease their burden.

The upcoming Egyptian summit should focus on finding a new workable approach to countering the disasters of climate change, instead of just empty promises and no real groundwork, as has happened in previous COP conferences.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on Indian Muslims, education, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs)

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