The 27th United Nations Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) agreed, in the small hours of Sunday 20 November, to establish a fund to compensate vulnerable nations for ‘loss and damage’ from climate-induced disasters. This was the subject of intense negotiation at the conference, and attracted attention from activists and media around the world. Should Britain contribute?
No, say Daily Mail readers
Britain’s Daily Mail had made it the subject of a story and an editorial, earlier in the month. Its readers responded with a near-unanimous rejection of the idea that Britain should pay into such a fund.
Yes, say campaigners
Global Justice Now is a London-based membership organisation campaigning against poverty worldwide. Climate change is one of six focal points for its work, the others being pharmaceuticals, trade, aid/debt, migration, and food. Its director, Nick Dearden, was quick to endorse the deal, calling it “a sliver of hope for vulnerable countries who are already facing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.”
The charity Oxfam, in a report issued in the run-up to COP27, stated: “There is no question who is most responsible for driving climate change. Rich countries have contributed an estimated 92% of excess historical emissions, and are responsible for 37% of current emissions (despite being home to only 15% of the global population).” And the report’s source for those 2015 statistics shows that the EU, with Britain in it then, was among those rich countries.
It’s complicated, say Mary Robinson and others
A Guardian story, two days before the agreement, explored the reservations of many politicians and academics. These were people sympathetic to the aims of a fund against climate-driven loss and damage. But they were concerned that the language used in promoting it might obscure the reasons for its need.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, told the paper: “I can understand why people talk about reparations, but I talk about climate justice. I think that is much better language. There is a responsibility that the polluter should pay, but it’s just not productive getting into terms like ‘reparations’, you get lawyers involved. But if we talk about justice, we can get somewhere.”
The story tells of about a dozen voices from around the world offering different perspectives on how climate justice might be achieved. It quotes Indigenous Environmental Network leader Tom Goldtooth saying that in his circles people “don’t often use the word reparations” – but he then adds:
“Reparations for us isn’t about compensation, it’s about the colonial government recognising and respecting its responsibilities in providing services and interventions to help ensure our survival.”
Demonstrations in East Anglia
British activists had a national demonstration in London on 12 November, in support of the idea of the loss and damage fund. Over thirty smaller demonstrations were announced as taking place across the British Isles, including in this publication’s East Anglia patch. There’d been a tiny gathering in Cambridge in September. On 12 November, Waveney Climate Justice mounted a demonstration outside the Britten Centre in Lowestoft. Norwich had a march through the city centre and a rally addressed by speakers, including MP Clive Lewis. He and others linked the climate crisis to the cost of living crisis, and said action for climate justice belonged with work for a more equal Britain.
Will the reparations fund be effective?
What happens now is uncertain. The agreement of the fund was welcomed by leaders of island nations in the Pacific, who had been campaigning decades for such a thing. But the question of how the fund is to be funded remains open. A number of pledges have been made. Most are essentially repackagings of money already committed to climate finance, a fact which has led to charges of “loss-and-damage washing”.
An example to follow
COP veteran Prof. Saleemul Huq from Bangladesh spoke on the Radio 4 programme Rethink (29’12”) about what the fund could be used for. Initiatives he has overseen in Bangladesh, using the country’s national climate change action plan, include breeding salt-resistant rice, installing freshwater tanks on house roofs, and mapping the country’s vulnerabilities. Prof. Huq takes pride in the results:
“Losses and damages happening every day somewhere in the world, including in the rich world – we are not ready for it. If anybody’s ready, Bangladesh is! And so the rest of the world’s going to come and learn from us how to deal with those impacts … The floods in Pakistan that happened, that caused devastation – the devastation would not have been as much in Bangladesh. We have floods like that and we deal with them. We cope with them. We manage them.”
Disclosure. Aidan Baker is an active member of Global Justice Now and took part in two of the demonstrations referred to. He would like to thank Sheila Brookes for helping with research for the article.