In a Historic Move, Frontline Communities Will Be Compensated for Climate Crisis Impacts

The annual UN climate negotiations concluded on Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, running predictably into overtime, with a mixed outcome. Delegates celebrated the historic decision to create a mechanism by which developed countries will compensate developing countries for the havoc wreaked upon frontline communities by the climate crisis. Yet a call to phase out fossil fuels did not make it into a final draft. Given that it is the source of the emissions and the climate crisis, many scoffed at the hypocrisy of the results.

The Good News

The decision to create a facility or process by which nations in the Global North will compensate nations in the Global South for the impacts of the climate crisis will have major significance. These effects are known as “loss and damage” in UN parlance, referring to things that have been irretrievably lost, such as an entire season of crops, which Pakistan, which is still one-third under water, will experience, or damaged, such as flooded homes and businesses. The new facility is supposed to be running by 2023.

The establishment of a loss-and-damage facility is an important step for climate justice. It also represents a significant shift in the mindset, clearly announcing that the blame for the climate crisis rests with the countries that bear historical responsibility for producing emissions (and reaped financial benefits for doing so). And just as critically, it acknowledges that communities in the Global South are disproportionately experiencing the effects of these emissions. Vulnerable countries have been calling for the implementation of a loss and damage facility since the very beginning of the annual UN climate negotiations, that is, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

The success of the loss-and-damage mechanism can be attributed to the decades of hard work of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), supported by the G77, the Least Developed Countries, the African Group, other nation clusters, and, of course, individual nations.

Molwyn Joseph, the minister of health, well-being, and the environment in Antigua and Barbuda, who chaired AOSIS this year, said, “Today, the international community has restored global faith in this critical process that is dedicated to ensuring no one is left behind.” But he added, “We must work even harder to hold firm to the 1.5C warming limit, to operationalize the loss and damage fund, and continue to create a world that is safe, fair, and equitable for all.”

The G77, which includes 134 developing nations, was led by Pakistan’s minister for the environment, Sherry Rehman. Pakistan was determined to implement the loss-and-damage fund, given the catastrophic climate events of this year. Floods inundated one-third of the country, impacted 33 million people, including 16 million children, unleashed US$30 billion of damages, and killed over 1,500. Meanwhile, Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The efforts of negotiators inside were supported by the calls of civil society, which Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, acknowledged in her remarks at the closing plenary. Protests abounded, with activists holding up signs demanding that developed countries “Pay Up For Loss and Damage.” Nakeeyat Dramani, a 10-year-old Ghanian activist, addressed the plenary on Saturday and asked the Global North to pay up, holding up a sign that read “Payment Overdue.”

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