The United Nations climate conference concluded in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday without a formal commitment to phase out all fossil fuels — the main source of global warming.
But climate change activists could claim at least one victory: wealthier nations, which are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, agreed to compensate developing nations, which are disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters despite doing little to cause global warming.
The establishment of a loss and damage fund was a welcoming development for poorer nations that have long advocated for money to help them deal with climate-worsened storms, floods, heat waves, droughts, and in some cases, the slow sinking of their territory.
“Three long decades and we have finally delivered climate justice,” said Seve Paeniu, the finance minister of Tuvalu, according to the Associated Press. “We have finally responded to the call of hundreds of millions of people across the world to help them address loss and damage.”
The agreement was reached despite the initial reluctance of the United States, historically the world’s biggest polluter. Indeed, at the summit’s onset, the country’s special climate envoy, John Kerry, rebuffed any “sort of legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability.” The U.S. was the “most vocal” against the creation of such a fund and was perceived as the “main block toward moving forward,” says Ashfaq Khalfan, Oxfam America’s director of climate justice.
But the U.S. faced pressure to change its stance after the European Union endorsed the plan, leaving the nation virtually alone in its dissent. And in an eleventh-hour pivot, the country finally agreed to the measure along with nearly 200 other nations at the conference, also known as COP27.
The idea of giving aid to poorer nations hit hard by climate change has been making the rounds for some time.
In fact, in 2009, at the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, developed nations pledged to give $100 billion a year in climate assistance to middle- and low-income nations by 2020. Despite claiming to reach $83.3 billion, a recent Oxfam report alleges they delivered roughly a quarter of that funding, designed to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
The topic returned to the discussion table in last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, where countries pledged to open official dialogue on the issue.
Sunday’s decision established a “transitional committee” to discuss the mechanisms for the funding, with the first meeting slated for no later than late March next year.
Per a U.N. announcement, contributions would first fall on developed countries, as well as public and private donors, such as the World Bank. However, both the U.S. and the European Union are pushing for top emitters like China — technically classified as a developing country — to also be on the hook for funding, regardless of their designation.
Still, the recipients of the funding remain largely uncontested: largely lower-income nations most affected by climate change.
Even if the details are ironed out at next year’s climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, many countries would still need approval of their respective governing bodies to dispense aid. In nations like the U.S., where the legislature is politically divided, the deal might prove a hard sell.
Though the loss and damage fund marked the winning of one fight, some climate activists and representatives felt as though they’d lost another: the effort to get a global commitment to reduce all fossil fuels.
The final agreement called for a phasedown of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and affirmed the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But it did not go further to call for a phase-out of all fossil fuels, including oil and gas.
“What we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet,” a disappointed Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Union, told his fellow negotiators, according to the Associated Press. “It does not bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions cuts.
“We have all fallen short in actions to avoid and minimize loss and damage,” Timmermans said. “We should have done much more.”
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What the 2022 U.N. Climate Conference Accomplished originally appeared on usnews.com