Until a few years ago, the term ‘Loss and Damage’ recalled few and vague general concepts, except in a small bubble of climate science insiders. But then, on a torrid Egyptian night, in a huge conference centre with thousands of international delegates, military personnel, observers, journalists, and other public figures at 3.30 a.m., the final plenary of COP27, which was to become ‘the COP of loss and damage’ a few hours later, finally got underway. A historic event. You may or may not have heard of it.
On that night, after two crazy weeks of Chinese-driven negotiations, with constant changes of position by the European Union, with the United States wavering, a formal decision would be taken towards the establishment of a new multilateral fund – like those that already exist on adaptation to climate change, or the Green Climate Fund, or funds that finance vaccines and the fight against AIDS in Africa.
A specific fund to compensate the countries most affected by climate disasters, into which money would flow from all over the world but particularly from the richest countries, from the polluting West.
A true mechanism of unconditional international solidarity (in financial terms), based on science, history, and common sense? An all too long-awaited political miracle, which came after no less than 30 years of negotiations and pressure from the countries of the so-called Global South, which in Egypt finally saw a resounding victory on the long-standing issue of climate finance – at least in perspective.
The ‘third leg’ of the 2015 Paris Agreement was realised, after reducing emissions and supporting adaptation policies where the climate crisis has already been there for years. The European Union, Germany, and the United States, united and convinced that they would win, would have preferred a system based on insurance guarantees with ex-post money transfers (subsidies), i.e., to be set in motion later, after the disaster has occurred and according to precise clauses and insurance policies stipulated beforehand, or according to strange forms of preventive adaptation with subsidies for protection and prevention projects – but that was perhaps adaptation anyway, wasn’t it? Nothing of what the developing countries have been asking for decades: certain money, accumulated in a multilateral fund, to be disbursed immediately after disasters through non-repayable, unconditional transfers, useful to repair the repairable and compensate the irreparable without weighing (too much) on the devastated national and local budgets of these countries (does this remind you of anything?). Paying in fact, or rather annually filling up the tank – pass me the pun – for the new fund, would have been mainly the task of the rich countries, historically the main culprits of the climate problem.
Legitimate questions arise: which repairs are eligible, i.e., for which types of disaster can a precise climate origin be identified and thus trigger a compensatory subsidy? How to distinguish between simple damage and aggravated damage due to bad maintenance? How to disburse this money and to whom? To governments, local authorities, and private actors in the area? Above all, are there lists of where, how, and why to disburse or not to disburse? It wasn’t until that night in Egypt that I realised why for years only a few colleagues in the world had been trying to build tables, make diagrams, and establish rules to solve an issue that – until then – no one was interested in. Simply, because we are talking about international repairs, and repairs involve taking responsibility, something that is about damage (in one country) related to CO2 emissions (in another country in the world) no one really wanted to talk about. Especially those who felt they had responsibility.
There are states that disappear underwater – this is not an exaggeration, although it hurts to think about it, better to avoid – and states that avoid taking any responsibility. There are states that have polluted and are polluting, and there are states that did not pollute before, but that now pollute more than all the others (China has been first in CO2 emissions for years now, despite cyclopean investments in renewables, which only partially compensate for the problem). There are millions and millions of women and men, girls, and old men, who at this moment are leaving for a place other than home, where due to droughts, landslides, and out-of-control rains it has become impossible to cultivate anything, to live, to make a living. There is a politician from a small Pacific state who has his photo taken in a suit and tie with his feet in the water to draw global attention to the problem but ends up as a meme or at best a nice issue of Newsweek to show off on the coffee table in the living room. There is UN Secretary-General Guterres who has talked about nothing else for years, at the risk of never being heard from again.
As the Italian Climate Network and as living members of Italian civil society, we felt a strong need to start a campaign on the issue of compensation for loss and damage to begin to think, also in Italy, about disappearances and responsibilities. Coming out of the shell of those who follow, observe and comment on the trials, rather push them towards a slightly more just world.
Disappearances. Disappearances of too many of our co-inhabitants of planet Earth and their everyday contexts, for which we may be more responsible (all together and historically) than we think. It would happen to us, we would not want it to happen to us at all. Now that it is beginning to happen to us too, we are perhaps beginning to understand. We would ask for help, we would like it to come. We would ask for help.
Responsibility, in fact, to start taking on at the government level starting from our own country, which we would like to set an example in Europe and the world. Italy has an Italian Climate Fund that will mobilise economic resources amounting to EUR 4.2 billion over five years in international cooperation: will it also cover initial expenses in compensation for losses and damage? Will Italy, whether the answer to the first question is Yes or No, announce its own contribution to the new fund at COP28 to set an example internationally? That would be great, and we would like to understand how, when, and if we can help.
If we are embarking on this campaign it is because we believe in the process, we believe in the change that is possible, and we believe in you who would like to follow us in the coming months by helping us through a story on social media, a hashtag, a link to pass on to friends, an article to write for the magazine you collaborate with, an appointment in Parliament with those who have a good idea or simply want to do. For then, to understand the matter properly, it would be enough to go back to the good old principle of ‘the polluter pays’, alas still too little applied at the level of politics and policies. We can start, however, by at least talking about it. We launch ourselves into a campaign that has a start date, of today, and an end date, COP28. Because at the end of the day, we are and remain optimists, and we are certain that by then Italy will have made at least a small, small leap forward on this issue.
If it happens, it will also be thanks to you.
Article by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor and UNFCCC Contact Point