This year the matter of 'loss and damage' caused by climate change was cast onto the agenda at COP27 for the first time. Although in some ways it was a mention more than a beaming headline, this African edition of the 'Conference of the Parties', which I attended, represented a crescendo of African leaders, politicians and climate change activists.
The leaders were in tune, calling for this COP27 to be an 'implementation COP'. A COP that moved beyond the initial acknowledgement that the world's most industrialised economies need to take responsibility for the enormous impact their robust economic growth has had on the environment and their developing world peers.
It was, therefore, encouraging that the G20 pledged at the conference to work to limit global warming to 1.5C rather than 2C. The Financial Times reported that this commitment by the group of leading nations — including the biggest emitters, the US and China, as well as Saudi Arabia, the UK and Germany — acknowledged the effects of climate change would be ‘much lower at a temperature increase of 1.5C compared with 2C’.
Agreeing to limit a global earth temperature increase by 1.5C is an essential first step to moving beyond consensus to action but implementing specific action points by individual nations and financing those climate change reductions is another matter entirely.
The most significant danger to dealing with the increasing threat of global climate change is for the world's leading nations to lull themselves into a sense of smug complacency that making pronouncements is enough to deal with our challenges. As is always the case on the global political stage, there is a fair share of hypocrisy and not enough humility, or how else do we explain the lack of meaningful action on climate change thus far?
In a statement issued during the conference, ministers from Brazil, SA, India and China (the BASIC group), said they were ‘gravely concerned’. Concerned that rich countries were not ‘showing leadership’ in cutting their use of fossil fuels and progressing in their efforts to meet their stated climate change mitigation goals. The conflict in Ukraine and its impact on supply chains has undoubtedly added a layer of complication and delay.
The challenge and complexity of achieving consensus on who is to take responsibility for debilitating droughts, record famine and extreme floods affecting the planet is an emotive matter as it disproportionately impacts the world's poorest countries. Who calculates the 'loss and damage' caused by high-income countries, and what is the accountability protocol?
Getting to the heart of the matter
Some may argue that an 'eye for an eye' approach leaves the whole world blind. However, 'loss and damage' negotiations must be essential to global climate change negotiations. Up until this point, it has received little attention. Capturing and dissecting the data of costs and damages incurred due to climate change is more critical than developed nations are currently comfortable admitting.
At this edition of COP, developed nations proposed that the issue of 'loss and damage' required technical papers, further workshops, national and regional meetings, ministerial roundtables, submissions, inputs, and the list continues. Further, these nations rambled on about 'form following function', calling for 'time to get it right' and simultaneously vocalising urgency.
However, developing countries have noted that proposals from developed nations still need to reflect the sense of urgency confessed.
On day eight of the COP27 event, an 'elements paper' was introduced to parties to capture all ideas about 'loss and damage' issues. Several representatives from developing nations expressed that their views needed to be included in the paper, raising the concern that there was very little time to consider the paper and that it may not be the best document as a foundation for negotiations.
Developing nations have pointed out that 'loss and damage' consultations and negotiations have been in progress for over a decade. They are therefore pushing for a political decision that creates a loss and damage fund to get Africa back to 'ground-zero' in the worst affected climate change countries and from where she can build robust power solutions for the future.
Strengthening Africa's climate clout through collaboration
If Africa is serious about being heard on 'loss and damage', it's my reading that we need to be strategic and consistent in our chosen approach. Suppose African nations are united and consistently beating the drum about our specific petitions. In that case, our unity can represent increased political clout and a progression from an agreement on the issues to the implementation of 'loss and damage actions'. As we move on – and hopefully forward - from the COP 27 conference, it will undoubtedly be one of my key focus areas.