CLIMATEWIRE | Less than six months before world leaders gather in Egypt for the next round of global climate talks, officials have made little progress in addressing one of the most contentious points of negotiations — support for countries that have contributed the least to global warming but stand to suffer significantly.

The inaction has been particularly frustrating for a coalition of small island nations. For years, countries such as Antigua and Barbuda have raised the issue with little success as rising sea levels lapped at their shores. Now they are growing increasingly defiant in negotiations, and observers warn the impasse threatens to derail the United Nations’ 27th climate conference, known as COP 27, set to begin Nov. 7 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

“The climate emergency is fast becoming a catastrophe, yet within these walls the process feels out of step with reality,” Conrod Hunte, the lead negotiator for Antigua and Barbuda and the current chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, said last week during intermediary talks in Bonn, Germany.

One particular point of conflict is whether to include the issue on the agenda for COP 27. Many negotiators arrived in Bonn hoping to secure a dedicated agenda item to address the irreparable consequences of climate change — what’s known in U.N. circles as loss and damage.

It refers to climate harms that go beyond adaptation, such as the death of a coral reef from warming ocean waters or the displacement of entire low-lying communities. Less-developed countries that have not contributed much to global warming want wealthy, historical polluters such as the United States to pay for at least part of the damages caused by these losses.

It’s not just island nations that are at risk. A recent report from the U.N.’s scientific body highlighted the unavoidable impacts — and inequity — that rising temperatures will bring (Climatewire, Feb. 28).

But as talks broke down in Bonn over a lack of concrete solutions for loss and damage finance, developed nations moved to keep it off the agenda in November.

Without it, talks could unravel before they even begin, with vulnerable, developing countries intent on making it a sticking point.

“If there’s not agreement in advance about having an agenda item and a space to discuss loss and damage finance, there will be a fight. That’s pretty clear,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the climate think tank E3G.

Unfinished business

Small island nations long have pushed for action on climate damages. At climate talks in 2013, they helped establish a formal agreement known as the Warsaw International Mechanism on loss and damage, which aims to address the issue in a “comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner,” but doesn’t deliver funding.

The issue came up again during talks in Paris in 2015, when the United States pushed for a clause that would bar the inclusion of loss and damage from serving as the basis for future lawsuits or compensation.

At COP 26 talks last November in Glasgow, Scotland, developing countries put forward a plan for a loss and damage finance facility. It didn’t succeed, and instead the final text offered a series of dialogues on the way forward over the next three years — a timeline developing countries said postpones action that is needed now (Climatewire, Nov. 13, 2021).

“It was clear that it was not resolved at the end of Glasgow, that the dialogue was not going to be a complete resolution,” said David Waskow, director of international climate action at the World Resources Institute.

In Bonn, developing countries were clear the current system is not working for them.

“It’s not delivering meaningful finance,” said Meyer from E3G.

The urgency only has increased as new reports and analysis have illustrated how deep those impacts go.

A group of more than 50 climate-vulnerable nations released a report earlier this month that found climate-driven losses and disasters have wiped out 20 percent of their wealth over the last two decades. At the same time, the amount of money needed to address extreme-weather emergencies rose on average from $1.6 billion in 2002 to $15.5 billion in 2021, according to a report by Oxfam.

A reality that’s sinking in

Developed countries have come around to talking about loss and damage, a topic they were loath to broach even last year due largely to fears over liability (Climatewire, Nov. 19, 2021).

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told local media last month that he’s open to discussions on loss and damage as part of a new way of conducting international development. New Zealand also has taken an interest in moving the conversation forward.

But other wealthy players, particularly the United States and the European Union, continued to reject requests from developing countries for a specific funding mechanism.

That resistance comes as vulnerable countries have made clear that any funding to deal with climate damages would be in addition to money for emissions reductions or adaptation investments — which makes pulling it all together even tougher.

The world’s rich nations still lag a commitment to provide developing countries with $100 billion annually — a promise that was supposed to be met by 2020 but is now expected to be reached in 2023. And the Biden administration will face challenges to get an $11 billion budget request for international climate efforts through a deeply divided Congress (Climatewire, March 29).

The war in Ukraine has heightened concerns that countries are putting less money toward the climate fight in favor of decisions that could lock in future warming.

That loss and damage played such a central role in technical talks is new — helped in part by developing countries uniting around a clear position — but it highlights another major and unresolved issue in the complicated global fight against climate change.

“We’re not on track on emissions and the impacts are growing, and that reality is sinking in for a lot of countries,” said Waskow, from the World Resources Institute.

Developed countries, principally the United States and those in the European Union, are being forced to acknowledge that loss and damage is “something that can’t be set aside any longer,” he added.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.