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Opinion We are half way to COP28 but rich countries continue to stall climate progress

Ross Fitzpatrick says global climate agreements are all well and good but wealthy countries are not following through.

EVERY YEAR AROUND November, world leaders gather for the UN’s headline climate summit, known as COP, to take stock of global efforts to tackle climate change.

These negotiations are fraught and highly politicised but can sometimes deliver breakthroughs. At COP27 in Egypt, a historic decision was finally reached to establish a so-called ‘loss and damage’ fund to help communities rebuild and get back on their feet in the aftermath of climate disasters.

This is hugely important for developing countries, which are disproportionately impacted by climate change, despite having the least responsibility for the crisis and the least resources to adapt.

But the devil is in the detail; with the high-level political agreement reached, a new special Committee of UN Member States – including Ireland – was given one year to come up with recommendations on how the fund will operate, including dealing with contentious questions such as how much money is needed and where it should come from.

No movement

Half a year on, little concrete progress has been made. Last month, negotiators convened for two weeks in the German city of Bonn but spent the majority of the time failing to even agree on a formal agenda. The Pakistani co-chair of the talks, whose own country last year faced catastrophic floods which affected 33 million people and left one third of the country under water, likened delegates to “a class of primary school” given the lack of urgency.

In Paris two weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron convened a ‘Global Finance Summit’ to try to generate momentum, but the conference was light on results or concrete commitments.

With fewer than six months remaining until COP28, there is now a serious risk that negotiations could become deadlocked – delaying the actual establishment of the fund.

This would be disastrous for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis who are already struggling to cope with its devasting impacts. Earlier this year, Malawi – responsible for less than 1% of global emissions – was struck by Cyclone Freddy, causing devastating floods. Over 200,000 hectares of farmland were damaged, more than 650,000 people were displaced, and over 1,000 died.

In Bangladesh, rural households are estimated to pay almost $2billion per year to prevent or address climate impacts and are forced into selling personal belongings and taking on crippling debt. This is 12 times as much as the climate finance Bangladesh receives from international donors.

Who’s paying the price?

At present, it is the countries and communities least responsible yet most impacted by the climate crisis who are footing the bill, and recent research has found that developing countries can expect to take an economic hit of up to $671 billion by 2030, in addition to the deadly human and environmental toll wrought by climate change.

The political agreement to set up a loss and damage fund at COP27 is a recognition of this profound injustice, with Minister Eamon Ryan noting that those at risk “can begin to look forward to” increased support. But the question remains; when?

In Bonn last month, developing country delegates emphasised the need to get money flowing urgently to those most in need. The US, Japan, Ireland and other EU States focused on re-opening discussions around who should contribute and receive funding, previously set out in existing UN climate treaties. This would see more recently developed economies like China and Saudi Arabia required to pay in, while access would be narrowed down to only the most vulnerable states, despite longstanding political and academic disagreements over how vulnerability should be measured.

While these are legitimate questions, re-negotiating criteria for access and contribution to climate funding, in place since 1992 and reiterated through successive climate treaties, is fraught with difficulty. It risks undermining key principles of ‘fair share’ contributions based on historic emissions and national wealth, and those waiting on support simply do not have the time for these geopolitical arguments to play out.

Similarly, it is unsurprising that many developing countries view this as little more than a delaying tactic, given the decades-long trust deficit which lies at the heart of UN climate negotiations – best exemplified by the failure of wealthy nations to deliver on their previous pledge to provide $100bn in annual climate finance by 2020.

Political will

Breaking this deadlock will require political will, particularly from wealthier EU and OECD states – including Ireland. An important first step would be for those same states, in recognition of their historic responsibility for the climate crisis and lack of delivery on previous pledges, to provide new and additional finance for loss and damage, as a means of restoring trust and kickstarting the fund by COP28.

Civil society organisations have set out detailed proposals

on how additional resources could be raised, ranging from debt cancellation to national level taxes on wealth or fossil fuel producers.

Ireland played a crucial role as the lead negotiator for the EU in brokering the political breakthrough on a loss and damage fund at COP27. As a member of the UN Committee established to get the fund up and running, and with a hard-earned reputation for principled humanitarian aid and development, Ireland can play a similar role in the run-up to COP28.

Unless the current impasse of delaying tactics and dead ends are broken, countries and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis will continue paying the price.

Ross Fitzpatrick is Policy & Advocacy Officer with Christian Aid Ireland.


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