For the first time since the start of the United Nations climate negotiations, a victory in the form of the creation of a loss and damage fund was won. This fund, decades in the making, has long been the call of grassroots movements everywhere, who demand the creation of a fund that those communities affected by the climate crisis can access. Other wins were achieved as well, including the inclusion of the right to a healthy environment in the preambular portion of the COP27 document, known now as the Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan.
However, despite these wins, there have also been plenty, much bigger losses, such as the copied weak language from the Glasgow Climate Pact about the “phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” and the lack of urgency to meet the global 1.5 degree Celsius goal set by the Paris Agreement. More than 600 delegates from the fossil fuel sector attended the conference and were given a space to lobby, compared to around 300 indigenous peoples, who are simultaneously at the frontlines and the last line of defense against the climate crisis. Finance flows remain weak, with adaptation and mitigation finance goals still unattained, putting into precarity what this might mean for loss and damage.
How then does one grapple with these ironies, this wide discrepancy? Best COP outcome for climate justice, yet also its worst? What does this mean for the Asia Pacific, who simultaneously celebrated and mourned this decision? More importantly, how do we move forward from this, and how do we make it better?
A vital win, more losses
While establishing a loss and damage fund is crucial, the fact that the language on fossil fuels remains unchanged means that any win on the loss and damage front will be easily shadowed by losses relating to fossil fuels, the root cause of the climate crisis. Therefore, this vital win in COP27 might lead to costlier losses and damages.
Here is where the COP failed miserably.
By refusing to acknowledge the harm that fossil fuels cause and by refusing to strengthen the language on their phase-out (which pushback was led by developed countries), the creation of the loss and damage fund could be rendered nugatory – it becomes an acknowledgment that action needed is urgent but is not urgent enough. All the while our lands, livelihoods, and collective presents and futures lie at the mercy of the next big typhoon, the next storm surge, or the next drought or intense flood. It also raises the question of climate justice – what message are developed nations trying to get across when they try to negotiate who gets to receive aid? That the right not just to life but to a life with dignity is up for debate?
The only real pathway to achieve the 1.5 goal is to phase out fossil fuels completely and work to ensure a genuine just transition that ensures no one is left behind. This means no new oil and gas and the stoppage of existing ones; no extractivist industries and development aggression, particularly mining and coal; and no ways these harmful sectors can receive funding. This also means that new renewable energy projects must remain faithful to the move towards just transition, lest they fall prey to similarly unjust practices: displacement of indigenous peoples and local communities, land conversion, and waste, among others.
It’s also crucial that while loss and damage is made much more prominent in the climate negotiations (a win made possible by civil society, activists, and frontline communities), mitigation and adaptation are not relegated to the backseat. Developed countries must follow through with their mitigation and adaptation commitments without being allowed to use loss and damage as a cop-out.
This is not to say that there is nothing to be proud of. The loss and damage fund is a stark example of the sheer radicality of hope and the immense power of solidarity. It is an excellent reminder that, together, things can be done to forward climate justice. It is a beautiful reminder of the transcendence of hope into text and allyship into decision-making. It is a judgment, agreed by countries all over, that communities, particularly communities in climate-vulnerable countries, no longer have to rely on the resilience of their spirit.
Next year, the COP will be held in the United Arab Emirates, a petrostate. If next year’s COP, which will also be the concluding year for this cycle’s global stocktake, wants to be a successful COP (for climate, hopefully, and not for the fossil fuel industry), it has to commit to stronger language in the cover text. It has to be intentional about moving away from phasing down fossil fuels and instead commit to a complete phase-out. Greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically. Countries everywhere should increase their climate ambition, and those who have an obligation to pay should do so. There has to be meaningful and inclusive participation of the most marginalised of our sectors. The loss and damage fund, which operationalisation would be discussed by then, should be accessible, equitable, and just.
Moreover, it should prioritise vulnerable communities, not impose additional burdens on them. These communities should be given the space and the opportunity to participate in processes that ultimately affect their lives. Also, it should be clarified where the money should come from and how the money is to be accessed. Anything less than new, additional, predictable, adequate, and just, will simply not suffice.
The fund is as historic as it is a victory, but as always, as ever, the battle has just begun.
There is a wide acknowledgment that the victories in these summits matter because an international decision on a decidedly global problem is how you solve the climate crisis; however, there is a need also to acknowledge the courage of those on the ground, on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and to support them in their own personal victories, and fight with them in their battles. It’s important always to look back and think of those affected and how to make wins that are concrete for them. These are not abstractions – these are frontline communities, farmers and fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, women, and youth, among others; these are family members, friends, and comrades in the struggle for genuine climate justice.
Yes, there is a greater goal, and it matters that we reach that collaboratively; but there are also goals on the ground – goals set and met, and within the intersections and overlaps of these goals are the people for whom these goals were created. What is a loss and damage fund if our lives are gone, our heritage destroyed, our cultures lost, and our lands denuded? Perhaps, more accurately, what is a loss and damage fund if it takes away from us still – if it puts us in further debt, if it leaves us in a worse place than before?
These are questions, yet unanswered, that need to be responded to in the next few weeks and months as we prepare for the next COP.
For civil society, these are not just hypotheticals; these are lived realities. And since COP27 showed us that climate justice, through the establishment of a loss and damange fund, can be achieved, we are more emboldened to forward our other calls – phasing out fossil fuels entirely, defending environmental defenders, moving towards genuine just transition, and climate justice for all.
Written by Joy Reyes, Legal Rights and Natural Resource Center / Friends of the Earth Philippines