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Dispute over ‘loss and damage’ may extend talks for days

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Nakeeyat Dramani Sam holds up a placard at an informal stocktaking session during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 18, 2022
  • Talks to spill over into Saturday and possibly beyond
  • On Friday morning Cop presidency released the first official draft
  • Loss and damage sits at the centre of what needs to be agreed
  • EU released proposal on Friday morning in support of loss and damage
  • US criticised for its refusal to engage with loss and damage talks

Backroom disagreements on what should have been the final day of Cop27 have ensured that talks would spill over into Saturday and possibly beyond. Delegates have for the last few days been predicting that the talks would be extended. It was only on Friday morning that the conference presidency released the first official draft of the cover proposals.

In a press conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday afternoon, special representative to the Cop presidency, Wael Aboulmagd, told reporters that the delay was due to technical talks conducted in the second week of the conference that had gone over time, but that “things are starting to come together”.

According to international climate director at US-based World Resources Institute, David Waskow, one major issue above all others is holding up negotiations. “Loss and damage sits at the centre of what needs to be done to get this proposal over the edge,” he said. Whilst discussion over other aspects of the proposal remain ongoing, it is this much-talked about issue that has most divided parties.

There are signs that groups are moving closer towards an agreement. Almost all parties are now agreeing on the implementation of a loss and damage fund to be established at Sharm el-Sheikh.

Having attempted to remove the issue from the agenda at the start of the conference, the European Union delegation released a surprising proposal on Friday morning in support of loss and damage that differed from that put forward by the G77 and China on just a few key issues: largely, who is obliged to donate and who is eligible to benefit from such a fund.

The alternative EU proposal would see the potential donor base expanded from those countries that were considered developed in 1992 to include newly developed countries that are now large carbon emitters or fossil fuel exporters. Such an expansion would add countries like China, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE to the list of those who could potentially donate to the fund.

Many climate activists claim that, whilst this might seem reasonable, it is not the reason loss and damage was established in the first place, which was “primarily because of the emissions of the past,” according to Delhi-based Harjeet Singh of Climate Action Network.

“All of the countries who are big emitters who come in the queue, they should be paying at a later stage but, at this moment, we would like to be very clear that it is about developed countries paying for the bill,” Singh said.

The EU document also differs from the G77-backed proposal by limiting those countries who could make use of the fund to “vulnerable” countries rather than “developing” ones. Under such plans, countries that have suffered recent climate disasters, such as Nigeria, the Philipinnes, and Pakistan, could be left off the list. “Imagine,” said Singh. “We are all talking about Pakistan here, and Pakistan will not qualify for this.”

But whilst climate activists take issue with aspects of the EU’s proposal, the US delegation has come under particular criticism for its apparent refusal to engage with loss and damage negotiations at all. Delegates say that the US held up negotiations, largely about climate change, that went on late into Thursday night and Friday morning.

“The US is not a fair player,” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth US said in a press conference on Friday. Orenstein accused the US of blocking the establishment of the fund. “All they have to do is nothing,” she said.

Now that the EU is in apparently full support for a fund, along with nearly all the other member parties, the US appears increasingly isolated and may be forced to accept a proposal.

“They have had to come to terms with where the rest of the conversation is,” said Nisha Krishnan, “and that they were—and are—holding this process up.”