The discussion on climate is also a discussion about responsibility. There is a direct link, demonstrated by science, between development, emissions and global warming. The creation of a loss & damage fund at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt was the endpoint of the recognition of one of the basic concepts of climate action: shared but differentiated responsibilities.
«Unthinkable». Even though the battle was almost as old as the existence of the UNFCCC, this was the most frequent comment on the possibility of the birth of this fund. A financial instrument on climate damage and losses for vulnerable countries seemed like a moonshot, a battle of evidence, something that we would never see happening, that the richest countries responsible for the climate crisis would never accept. The consensus voting mechanism seemed like a wall defending the status quo. And instead within a couple of weeks the unthinkable became thinkable, and then from thinkable it became real.
It’s still a long way: the timeline decided at COP27 talks about two years, but things have to happen in two years for the first funds to find their way towards countries affected by extreme events. Meanwhile one is almost over and COP28 is coming soon. The known unknowns on the loss and damage fund still make it an empty box: we don’t know exactly who will have to contribute, who will be able to receive it, how the resources will be collected, what the public and private shares will be, whether there will be any taxes to integrate, what role insurance shields such as the global shield will have, what responsibility China will have, simultaneously the leading country for emissions and political leader of vulnerable countries. Today the fund is still halfway there, now much more than a principle, still much less than a tool. We still know too little about it to understand whether it will really be something capable of allowing the most suffering countries to navigate the next century of climate crisis.
Today, however, we can focus on something else, waiting to know the crucial details: the story that the very existence of this empty box tells us. And it is a story of a change in verb tenses and political balance. The plan towards creating the fund tilted somewhere in the plains of Pakistan, months before COP27. There, one of the scariest monsoons in the history of Asia caused 3,000 victims and 30 billion dollars in damage. It is difficult to understand what makes an extreme event more politically symbolic than others: perhaps it is a combination of scale (and here it was immense) and storytelling (Pakistan, before and during COP27, did not lack it). That event was the point after which no one would ever again talk about climate change in the future tense, as a problem to be prevented, but only in the present, as a constant catastrophe to be faced. The birth of the loss and damage fund takes place exactly in the context of this mental shift, when the pressure of a crisis on an entire area of the world becomes unbearable and a bloc of countries is willing to do anything, even to blow up an entire COP, for financial relief and political recognition.
And here we come to the second story. The fund is, undeniably, a statistical rarity: a victory for the Global South. The story of countries that are very different from each other in terms of geography, political systems, history and culture, which come together for a common goal and manage to succeed. There are many other perspectives to this story, starting from the ambiguity of the Chinese role, but it is still a political novelty that should be taken into account for the future. The shape of the world has irreversibly changed after Sharm el-Sheikh, the loss and damage fund is at the same time a symptom and a cause of this change, the details that will compose it (who pays, who receives and how) will be read as one of the most interesting forecasts on the geopolitics of the current century.
Article by Ferdinando Cotugno, journalist of Il Domani