As Loss and Damage Negotiations Come to a Halt, Countries Cling to Hope

November 3, 2023 | 11:53 am
Haitian citizens walk through the flooded streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Tomas hit the country.US Marines/Flickr
Isatis M. Cintrón-Rodríguez
Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia Climate School

The biggest success of the United Nations climate convening (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, last year was the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund, intended to provide resources to climate-vulnerable, low-income countries to help them cope with the extreme impacts of climate change. The establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund was the result of a 30-year battle led by small island nations, developing states, and civil society. The success of COP28, to take place later this year in Dubai, UAE, hinges on whether it can put forth a positive outcome and robust proposal for Loss and Damage. But so far, the chances seem slim. 

COP27 mandated the creation of a Transitional Committee (TC), composed of 24 members—10 from developed countries and 14 from developing countries—to operationalize the fund by COP28. The TC  arranged four negotiation meetings through 2023 to develop a proposal to guide the operation of the new funding stream: how it will work, and who the money will flow from and to. The fourth TC meeting took place last month in Aswan, Egypt. On Oct 17, countries started their last four-day meeting that would extend until 2:30 AM in a rush to save the recommendations toward a COP28 outcome. Developed countries, in a convenient collective amnesia of their historical responsibility in creating climate change, tried to impose more climatic injustices than they have already created by disregarding the very fabric of the Paris Agreement and governance structure that limits the access, representation, and capacity of the Fund to work for vulnerable communities. This is preventing progress on a Loss and Damage agreement. As talks resume today in Abu Dhabi, UAE, everyone awaits a robust outcome in a pivotal moment for COP28.

What is holding a Loss and Damage agreement back?

Differences of opinion about where the fund should be located, who should be the beneficiaries, and funding sources were not resolved, preventing an agreement. Developed countries came to the table with too little flexibility, forgetting this fund was a response to their historical responsibility in creating climate change and ignoring the fact that it should be designed in a way that centers frontline communities who have contributed the least to climate change but are already facing the worst impacts.   

Developed countries, under a proposal led by the US, pushed for the fund to be hosted by the World Bank. However, the fund has to respond to the needs of the most impacted and frontline communities. Developing countries have made it very clear that a World Bank-hosted fund is not fit for this purpose and is incompatible with this vision, since it does not allow for shared governance, or speed and direct access requirements. Developing countries supported by civil society proposed the fund to be established as a new independent institution to serve this purpose. 

In a distressing push, wealthy countries insisted on removing one of the most important climate justice pillars of the Paris Agreement from being considered as a principle for the Loss and Damage Fund: Common But Differentiated Responsibilities. This is largely seen by developing countries as divide-and-conquer tactics, which must stop. Rich nations need to come to the table with both a deep sense of responsibility and a mandate to stand up the fund in good faith. 

The fund is more than another financial institution: it is about climate justice and a way to respond to the losses and damages of our loved ones, our homes, our culture, and our traditions—all caused by a problem we, the people of island nations and other frontline communities, did not create. We need a fund that can deliver reparations to countries under direct assault from climate chaos. We need a transformative approach that ensures meaningful and democratic participation of developing countries, frontline communities, Indigenous people, women and girls, climate refugees, and civil society throughout the process of design, implementation, monitoring. We need a fund that can deliver direct access to countries that need it the most, as well to our communities who are not only our first line of respondents but also our lifeline. For example, my country, Puerto Rico—a small island nation facing catastrophic climate impacts—has suffered economic losses that amount to 100 billion dollars from one event alone (Hurricane María in 2017), which is in addition to the tragic loss of lives, social fabric, infrastructure, and well-being among Puerto Ricans.

All eyes are on Abu Dhabi

After parties expressed their disappointment in not being able to reach a positive outcome, the COP Presidency agreed to host an additional meeting with the goal of coming up with a concrete recommendation to be considered at COP28. I hope that a more just outcome can emerge in Abu Dhabi at the 5th Transitional Committee meeting November 3-4, ahead of COP28.  When it comes to loss and damage, nothing will be able to reverse the unprecedented impacts caused by the legacy of greed and extraction. We have yet to see the wealthy nations’ unwavering commitment to developing countries’ safety, well-being, and prosperity in climate-related matters. 

After a summer where we saw wildfires soar around the world, nightmare cyclones develop and intensify over 24-hour periods, and floods impacting different regions, the expectation was that the TC would come to the table with a clear understanding of its role and proactively serve communities left to fend for themselves after centuries of extraction, disinvestment, and colonization. Moving forward, the TC must come to the table with a proposal that delivers on the priorities and needs of vulnerable communities. 

Wealthy nations need to own their actions and pay up for the loss and damage they have imposed on us. We are watching and will not accept anything less than a fund that can uphold a human rights-based approach, ensure a participatory and shared governance structure, and support direct access to the communities that need it the most. 

Isatis M. Cintrón-Rodríguez, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia Climate School focusing on climate justice, atmospheric and snow chemistry, and climate attribution. She is a Climate Governance and Participation Specialist, serving as Board Member and LatAm Regional Coordinator for Citizens Climate International. She is the founder and Director of Climate Trace Puerto Rico and the ACE Observatory.

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