Can Egypt be the Loss and Damage COP we’ve all been waiting for?


In Azeez Abubakar's home country of Nigeria, extreme weather events linked to climate breakdown are becoming more frequent, more intense, and more dangerous. Loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure due to extreme heat and flooding are becoming regular occurrences, explains Azeez, a youth climate activist from Kwara State. "We are talking millions and billions of dollars of damage. It's really not easy to recover from that, particularly with our economy being a developing economy".

Nigeria, alongside many other African nations, sits at the front line of the climate crisis, despite contributing little to it. The entire continent of Africa accounts for only 2-3 percent of global carbon emissions and 1 percent of cumulative emissions. But the climate change related impacts Africa is experiencing are materialising faster than countries can adapt to, costing lives and livelihoods, and bringing death and destruction in their wake.

This imbalance in the responsibility for climate change versus the vulnerability many countries face has become a focal point of agitation for climate justice activists and Global South nations alike. This is where Loss and Damage comes into play.

Floods cost Lagos an estimated $4 billion each year.

What is Loss & Damage?

Loss and Damage (L&D) originated in the 1990s as calls from groups of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) for rich nations to provide compensation for climate-related impacts. As one of the three pillars of the Paris Agreement alongside mitigation and adaptation, it refers to the effects of climate change that cannot be mitigated or adapted to, such as loss of life, livelihoods and sacred sites, as well as damage to infrastructure. Often framed as "climate reparations", it is closely tied to notions of climate justice and historic responsibility for emissions.

Despite its place in the Paris Agreement, Loss and Damage is the Cinderella of international climate negotiations. Since the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) to aid in "understanding, action and support" in 2013, there has been little to no progress in establishing a funding facility and finance for L&D to back this mechanism up.

The L&D concept itself is politically controversial. Rich nations are reluctant to progress the issue, fearing that they could find themselves liable for potentially limitless amounts. This unwillingness to cooperate results in the issue’s absence from discussion agendas, where plans to address mitigation and adaptation are set out in detail, with L&D barely featuring at all. This in turn leads to frustration from many Global South representatives, who feel as though they are already on the backfoot before the negotiations have even begun.

What happened at COP26?

Consensus on Loss and Damage tends to be elusive, and discussions at COP26 in Glasgow proved no exception. The UK presidency had set out to establish a funding facility, but countries' failure to agree on this almost collapsed the negotiations and jeopardised reaching any agreement in Glasgow at all. Richer and poorer nations remained polarised on the issue, with little progress made.

Despite publicly stating their support for a Loss and Damage finance mechanism, behind closed doors, the EU joined forces with the US to block the G77 + China bloc's proposals for establishing a funding facility, increasing Global South frustrations that rich nations were not negotiating in good faith.

What was finally agreed was further discussion. The Glasgow Dialogue was established as a way to facilitate conversation around what a potential funding facility for L&D could look like.

Post-COP26, the legal landscape for Loss and Damage remains largely unchanged. As Linnéa Nordlander, author and Assistant Professor of Human Rights and Sustainability at University of Copenhagen explains, agreement on a Loss and Damage finance facility is not technically impossible. The fact that the COP is premised on consensus-based decision-making, however, means that “getting a finance facility at COP27 is going to be a pretty big challenge”. That being said, Linnéa does see some potential for progress on the L&D question, with some caveats:

“After Glasgow there does seem to be more of an appetite for the Loss and Damage discussion in the negotiations. Whether or not there is going to be a finance facility dedicated to L&D? That could in theory happen, although likely on the basis of voluntary pledges and voluntary contributions, as the discussion around liability and mandatory payments is still a contentious issue in the negotiations.”

Agreement on Loss and Damage is elusive at UNFCCC conferences, with COP26 in Glasgow proving no exception.

What can we expect from COP27?

Those agitating for a funding facility are confident that COP27 will go some way towards prioritising Loss and Damage, with the meeting being hosted in an African nation for the first time in several years. Just as Glasgow was the Finance COP, activists hope that Sharm El-Sheikh can be the Implementation COP.

Hyacinthe Niyitegeka is a coordinator at the Loss and Damage Collaboration, a network working to ensure that vulnerable developing countries have the support they need to address climate change-related loss and damage. She has high hopes that COP27, as “an African COP held on African soil…could be the catalyst that Egypt, on behalf of Africa, needs to boost loss and damage discussions”:

“At COP 27, major decisions on establishing the Loss and Damage Finance Facility need to happen, and progress must be made on the implementation of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage structure. The COP27 presidency branded this COP an implementation one. We believe this and are looking forward to seeing action rather than a talking shop.”

In what should be cautiously viewed as a boost to the L&D cause, COP27 President, Sameh Shoukry, has said that Egypt will facilitate "non-adversarial" talks on the issue. And in what has arguably been one of the greatest victories for civil society actors to date, Patricia Espinosa — the outgoing Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC — confirmed that “matters relating to funding arrangements for addressing loss and damage” would be added to the provisional agenda for COP27.

No matter the outcomes for L&D in Sharm El-Sheikh, it's likely that many will be left dissatisfied, as is so often the case with the consensus-based decision-making at COPs. The possibility of no-strings-attached compensation is becoming less likely. Rich nations, should they accept calls for a funding facility at all, can be expected to continue to push loss and damage finance facilities linked to insurance or loans. Global South negotiators intend to continue their resistance.

“We need finance mechanisms that are inclusive and fair - grants not loans. We cannot continue to make the Global South more indebted."

For Azeez, urgency, accessibility and solidarity are key to achieving something substantive in Sharm El-Sheikh. An accessible funding facility for L&D cannot wait.

"We need finance mechanisms that are inclusive and fair - grants not loans. We cannot continue to make the Global South more indebted."

He remains hopeful that COP27 can galvanise efforts to address climate injustice:

"There needs to be much more momentum around Loss and Damage this time, being in Africa. Cairo is one of the cities that experiences climate change the most. There is extreme heat and drought. I'm really just hoping that when everyone comes down and feels this heat for just two weeks, they can really start to understand what we are going through and that this can change the narrative."