Climate justice: Prioritising ‘loss and damage’ essential at COP27 talks

Ruth Green, IBA Multimedia JournalistTuesday 4 October 2022

Severe flooding devastated Pakistan in late August, killing more than 1,500 people, causing billions of dollars in damage and affecting more than 15 per cent of the country’s population. As global leaders prepare to gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (‘COP27’) in November, there are growing calls for high-income countries to shoulder the burden of climate-related losses and damages.

‘The problem that we are facing is so vast and the scale is so big that we’ve never seen the like of it before,’ says Hina Jilani, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a member of The Elders. ‘We realise very well that this would have been a big challenge for any government, even if they were well resourced and the economy was not in a shambles like it is right now in Pakistan.’

Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has warned that flood damage to infrastructure and the costs associated with rehabilitation could exceed $10bn. In the wake of the flooding, the International Monetary Fund issued a $1.1bn bailout to help the country avoid defaulting on its debts.

Jilani, who saw first-hand the impact of the flooding in Sindh, the worst-hit province, says the crisis has also brought into focus the need for developed nations to offer debt relief to countries such as Pakistan. ‘The reality is that countries like ours have no carbon footprint and yet we are suffering because others have made even larger and more dangerous mistakes than we have’, she says. ‘Rather than the calls coming from those who need the help, it should come from countries who have the ability to defer or cancel debts.’

Pakistan’s leaders called on the US to extend the $128m in debt relief promised to the country under the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative. The US agreed to extend the relief in September, but also urged the country to seek debt relief from China, its single biggest creditor. ‘Perhaps Pakistan is not the only country that needs this kind of help desperately, but it’s proportionate to the problems that we are facing’, says Jilani. ‘Everywhere there must be some concentration on helping out and giving space to these countries to help themselves so that they can release resources from debt servicing.’

Rather than the calls coming from those who need the help, it should come from countries who have the ability to defer or cancel debts

Hina Jilani
Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Loss and damage – the challenge of how to alleviate the world’s poorest nations from the most extreme impacts of the climate crisis in a manner that is fair and equitable – continues to be one of the most contentious issues in global climate negotiations.

The devastation caused by Pakistan’s floods has increased pressure on developed nations to establish a dedicated fund to compensate countries for climate-driven losses and this is set to be a key talking point at COP27.

Harjeet Singh, Head of Global Political Strategy at the Climate Action Network, has been campaigning heavily to ensure this issue remains front and centre at the upcoming talks. ‘It is the most important issue, and we’ll continue to put pressure on policymakers to make sure that we get a lost and damage finance facility’, he says.

Singh says it’s vitally important in the context of the continued failure by wealthy nations to meet previous financial pledges. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates that high-income countries have fallen almost $17bn short of delivering the pledged $100bn in climate finance a year by 2020. The OECD estimates that the donor countries’ collective target will not be reached until at least 2023.

Singh says this has only highlighted the need for loss and damage to be firmly on the COP27 agenda. ‘There’s still this shortfall and the majority of the money remains on loan, which means that we are not helping developing countries to adopt a greener pathway’, he says. ‘We have to look at this in the wider context of how we’ve failed on mitigation, we’ve failed on adaptation and where we have reached is climate impacts are everywhere and people suffering loss and damage.’

There has been some growing awareness internationally of the immediacy of the problem. In September, Denmark announced it would direct more than $13m in ‘loss and damage’ support to the Sahel region in north-western Africa and other areas that have suffered an impact, marking the first time a UN member state has pledged to compensate communities affected by the climate crisis.

That same month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told members of the General Assembly in its annual gathering in New York that developed countries needed to tax windfall profits of fossil fuel companies and direct that money ‘to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis; and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices’.

The concept of a ‘just transition’ must be central to climate negotiations going forward, says Andrea Forabosco, Energy Transition Officer of the IBA Oil and Gas Law Committee and Senior Counsel on energy transition issues at Shell International. ‘A key area of focus for COP27 and COP28 is going to be on an energy transition that is fair and equitable for developing countries, which is one of the key dimensions of a “just transition”’, he says.

Forabosco says companies will need clearer objectives if they are to decarbonise their operations successfully. ‘It’s only if the entire system shifts that there’s going to be a positive outcome’, he says. ‘The trend is for more clarity on what exactly organisations are supposed to do and higher expectations. Eventually it will be a discussion on how organisations are going to deliver and on how they are going to become more sustainable.’

Image credit: Pakistan floods in the SWAT valley. trentinness/AdobeStock.com