Countries at the UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt have passed a final agreement establishing a fund to help poor nations cope with the extreme weather events caused by global warming.
After tense negotiations that lasted throughout the night, the Egyptian presidency of the summit released a draft text of the overall agreement early Sunday and also convened a plenary session to push the document through as the final, overarching agreement for the UN summit.
The plenary approved the document’s provision to establish a “loss and damage” fund to help developing countries meet the immediate costs of climate-related events such as storms and floods.
However, many of the more contentious issues relating to the fund have been deferred to talks next year, when a “transition committee” will make recommendations for countries, to be adopted at the COP28 climate summit in November 2023.
The recommendations will relate to “identifying and expanding sources of funding,” which relates to the controversial issue of which countries should contribute to the new “loss and damage” fund.
Still, the fund’s acceptance is a major win for poorer nations, which have long been demanding financial redress for often being victims of climate change — such as worsened floods, droughts, heatwaves, famines and storms — even though they’ve done little to mitigate the pollution that heats up the planet.
“This loss and damage fund will be a lifeline for poor families whose homes have been destroyed, farmers whose fields have been ruined and islanders who have been displaced from their ancestral homes,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of environmental think tank World Resources Institute, minutes later the morning approval was announced.
Demands from developing countries for such a fund have dominated the two-week summit, pushing talks beyond their scheduled end on Friday.
“In this way, we hope our 30-year journey has finally borne fruit today,” said Pakistani Climate Minister Sherry Rehman.
A third of her nation was swamped by a devastating flood this summer, and she and other officials used the motto, “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”
Collins Nzovu, Zambia’s Minister for Green Economy and Environment, said he was “excited, very, very excited”.
“Very exciting because for us, success in Egypt would depend on what we get out of losses and damage,” he said.
“This positive outcome of COP27 is an important step towards restoring confidence in vulnerable countries.”
According to the agreement, the fund would initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources such as international financial institutions.
While large emerging economies like China would initially not have to contribute, this option remains on the table and will be negotiated in the coming years.
This is a key demand from the European Union and the United States, which argue that China and other big polluters currently classified as developing countries have the financial clout and responsibility to pay their share.
The fund would largely target the most vulnerable nations, although there would be room for middle-income countries hard hit by climate-related disasters to get help.
Experts said the fund’s adoption is a reflection of what can be done if the poorest nations remain united.
“I think it’s tremendous that governments are coming together to work out at least the first step … how to deal with the problem of loss and damage,” said Alex Scott, climate diplomacy expert at think tank E3G.
But like all climate finance, it’s one thing to set up a fund and another to let money flow in and out, she said.
The developed world has still not met its 2009 pledge to spend $100 billion a year on other climate aid — to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
“In a lot of ways, we’re talking about amends,” said Sacoby Wilson, professor of environment, health and justice at the University of Maryland.
“It’s an appropriate term,” he said, because rich Northern countries have been reaping the benefits of fossil fuels while poorer countries of the Global South have suffered the effects of climate change.
Some delegates, meanwhile, said the approved deal does not do enough to step up efforts to tackle emissions that cause global warming.
It made no reference to the phasing out of the use of “all fossil fuels” as requested by India and some other delegations.
Instead, she called on countries to take steps towards “the phasing out of unabated coal-fired power generation and the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” as agreed at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
The draft also included a reference to “low-emission energy”, which raised some concerns that it opened the door to the increased use of natural gas – a fossil fuel that produces both carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
Norway’s climate minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters his team had hoped for a stronger deal. “It doesn’t completely break with Glasgow, but it doesn’t inspire any ambition at all,” he said.
“I think they had a different focus. They were very focused on the fund,” he said.