US Must Change Its Posture for 5th Transitional Committee Meeting on Loss and Damage to be Successful

November 1, 2023 | 12:44 pm
UN News/Laura Quiñones
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

Last month, the fourth meeting of the United Nations Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage ended in an impasse, largely due to unhelpful positions taken by the United States and other wealthy nations.

A fifth meeting (TC5) has been hastily called and will take place on November 3-4 in Abu Dhabi. This meeting must deliver clear recommendations for operationalizing the loss and damage fund at COP28, the upcoming UN climate talks in Dubai starting at the end of November. And for that to happen, the US must signal a willingness to shift its posture and work in a spirit of cooperation with low-and middle-income countries facing an worsening onslaught of extreme climate impacts.

3 things needed from the US for a breakthrough at TC5

Last year, at COP27, nations agreed to establish a climate Loss and Damage Fund and a Transitional Committee (TC) was formed soon after to help figure out the details of how to get the fund up and running.

The TC has met four times, starting with its first meeting back in March. While important progress has been made in defining a set of core issues that must be agreed upon and addressed, TC4 failed to deliver breakthroughs on key contested topics.

The US has unfortunately contributed to the challenges in resolving key issues and here are three ways it will need to show solidarity with developing countries at TC5:

  1. Stop calling for locating the Loss and Damage Fund at the World Bank. The World Bank simply does not have the appropriate governance framework for the Loss and Damage Fund. Many concerns have been raised by developing countries about the high intermediary fees it might charge and the lack of direct access to funding for countries, given the World Bank’s structure and governance. Yet, at TC4, the US and other developed nations maintained a hard line on this issue. Locating the fund at the World Bank is a non-starter and the US should clearly signal its openness to other options that would ensure the fund operates as an independent entity, directly accessible to developing countries, with a democratic governance structure, and housed under the COP.
  2. Agree to developed countries taking primary responsibility for providing resources for the fund, alongside other nations and entities. There is a consensus that the fund should be able to receive resources from a wide variety of sources, but nevertheless it’s critical to agree that developed nations should take the lead on providing funding. That is only fair, given their historical responsibility for heat trapping emissions. And it still leaves the necessary room for other nations in a position to contribute to the fund to also do so, as well as for funding to come from philanthropic sources and taxes on polluters, among other sources.
  3. Agree to the fund being accessible to all categories of developing countries. Rather than limit funding to a subset of developing nations, the fund should be accessible to all when it is operationalized. Loss and Damage is unfortunately a deadly and costly reality for many communities, including in low- and middle-income developing nations and in the least developed countries (LDCs). Pakistan and Barbados are among those who may be excluded if the fund is restricted to just climate-vulnerable LDCs, as they have pointed out. Subsequent decisions on how to allocate funding should be made by a democratic board and based on a multi-faceted set of criteria that highlight exposure and vulnerability to climate impacts, not simply income.

Listening to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis

Minister Schuster of Samoa, a representative of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), made some powerful remarks at the pre-COP meeting yesterday that underscore their decades-long fight to secure climate justice, and the importance of finding agreement and working in solidarity with those on the frontlines of acute climate impacts.

He made a pointed remark about the World Bank: “I challenge you to consider whether locating this Fund in the World Bank, an institution currently being pressured by the international community to reform on the on the basis of it not being fit-for-purpose.

Securing agreement on a clear set of recommendations ahead of time is crucial for operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28.

These recommendations must ensure that the fund serves the needs of climate-vulnerable communities in developing countries, first and foremost. This is not meant to be a donor-driven fund operating at the whims of richer, more powerful countries.

At its core, the Loss and Damage Fund is about securing climate justice for communities that are being hit hard by extreme climate impacts caused by the heat-trapping emissions primarily from richer nations. The United States, in particular, as the largest historical contributor to these emissions, has an outsize responsibility—even though it has worked at every turn to evade or minimize that responsibility in the legal text of international agreements.

What’s more, an agreement to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund can help foster the goodwill and trust that are necessary to secure other critical agreements at COP28—including a much-needed agreement for a fast, fair phaseout of fossil fuels and an ambitious clean energy package.

Conversely, if TC5 fails to achieve a breakthrough, and if there is a risk that the fund doesn’t get operationalized at COP28, that will have very negative consequences in the rest of the hard negotiations required to get other crucial outcomes from COP28.

With the climate crisis rapidly worsening around us, people around the world need world leaders to step up and find common ground for a high-ambition outcome, instead of holding us all hostage to geopolitical zero-sum games.

Celebrating the agreement to establish the Loss and Damage Fund at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh with Dr. Saleemul Huq. Rachel Cleetus

Securing the ‘Saleemul Huq Loss and Damage Fund’ at COP28

Many of us in the global climate movement are deeply mourning the recent death of Dr. Saleemul Huq, a great champion for climate justice—and, in particular, for addressing Loss and Damage. Dr. Huq was a preeminent climate science and generous colleague and mentor to many of us around the world and he will be sorely missed. It would be a fitting tribute indeed for the Loss and Damage Fund to be named in his honor and launched at COP28.