COP27, held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, concluded with a joint decision to establish loss and damage compensation for the countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. This step represents a momentous decision and a beacon of hope to achieve climate justice. “This COP has taken an important step towards justice. I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalise it in the coming period,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
This achievement took much work. Both persistent funding demands of developing countries at the negotiation table and the loss of billions of dollars caused by extreme weather events in these countries contributed significantly to the approval of loss and damage funding by all parties. Recently, Pakistan, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, yet responsible for less than 1% of global GHG emissions, was hit by a massive flood disaster that resulted in 1,717 deaths and more than $30 billion in material costs. Its leadership in the G77 + China negotiating bloc has significantly contributed to the funding Islamabad received to compensate for its loss and damage. “We are on the frontline and intend to keep loss and damage and adapting to climate catastrophes at the core of our arguments and negotiations. There will be no moving away from that,” Sherry Rehman, Minister of Climate Change of Pakistan, said. It seems that at the climate meeting to be held in the United Arab Emirates next year, climate finance will be at the top of the agenda. Yet hopes alone are not enough to make promises come true. In this context, it is useful to examine this year’s meeting in terms of the difficulty of collective action and the feasibility of climate justice.
Prospects for Collective Action
Establishing a funding mechanism for loss and damage requires a collective endeavour for developed countries having the historical record of most greenhouse gas emissions. This compensation mechanism brings a different responsibility than the flow of funds from developed countries to developing countries, as stated in the pioneering UNFCCC text. Nevertheless, past experience shows how difficult it is to achieve such a goal. The goal set by developed countries at COP15 to provide developing countries with $100 billion by 2020 was limited to $83.3 billion. Severe economic implications of the pandemic and the high costs associated with the energy crisis with the Russia-Ukraine War were seen as the main factors for the failure of climate funding. Now the issue seems to get more complicated because of some new difficulties arising from China’s colossal rise that makes it unfit for the previous WTO categorisation of “developing country”, which does not bring any concrete funding obligation.
Although the U.S. strategy was to put China in the developed country type at COP27, China continued to insist on being labelled the same way as within international institutions. This action is typical of Beijing-style foreign policy choice as a major benefiter of globalisation. In addition to China’s instrumentalisation of international institutions and liberal order in line with its interests, it is worth examining how it develops a new strategy of “doing its own business” by “greening” the BRI investment landscape. In recent years, China accelerated wind, solar, and hydro energy projects in African countries, significantly shifting from fossil fuels to renewables and strengthening Sino-African relations. In a region where only 48.4% of the population has access to electricity, investments in renewables to produce electricity mean a lot. With such changes in investment priorities, although China is responsible for more than twice the total emissions of the U.S., it has leverage against Western criticisms regarding its responsibility and category of development. This issue will be substantiated by Beijing’s increasing efforts to build on an “environmentally friendly” BRI.
Statements by Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate envoy at COP27, visibly reflected this stance. Voicing that China would rather prioritise cooperation with developing countries instead of direct financial support, Zhenhua gave signals that China will maintain its conventional approach despite Western criticism.
Restoring Today and Preparing for Tomorrow
It should come as no surprise that the issue of climate change has only been on the agenda of international politics for over three decades. The point of climate finance and the recent emphasis on loss and damage funding have become two major factors that increased the visibility of climate change in the mainstream discussions of international politics. However, the boundaries of climate justice do not seem to be limited to an issue of “benevolence” and “charity” provided by developed countries. For example, it will become necessary for the international community that has just started to be familiar with climate migrants to make new immigration strategies and policies. IPCC Sixth Assessment Report highlighted different scenarios for climate migration soon. By one projection, 31-72 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America would be displaced by 2050 due to water scarcity, rising sea levels, and famine. One way or the other, even if we insist on not making the climate agenda one of the most popular items in global politics, it will ultimately bring itself to the forefront with new problems.
That is why the issue of compensation for loss and damage, considered one of the important steps for establishing climate justice and a great success for the G77 countries, is vital. Even today, the issue of migration has yet to be fully resolved in developed countries. Therefore, the magnitude of the problem that may arise if funding mechanisms are not established in the future is overt.
In light of these issues, COP27 has opened discussions on these aspects. It underlined the significance and immediacy of an already complicated issue of collective action. Climate justice is far more than a “charity” and “excuse” to developing countries provided by the bloc of developed countries. The urgency of putting climate justice into concrete steps, which will inevitably be politicised in the next meetings, is obvious. One can only hope that COP27 and its aftermath will not present another story of failure and global havoc.