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COP27 talks begin with deal to discuss climate reparations

Nov. 6, 2022 Updated Sun., Nov. 6, 2022 at 8:41 p.m.

By John Ainger, Salma El Wardany and Jennifer A. Dlouhy Bloomberg News

U.N. climate talks began in Egypt Sunday with a deal to discuss how rich countries can help pay for the damages caused by global warming elsewhere.

The breakthrough, reported in advance by Bloomberg, will allow diplomats to officially debate so-called “loss and damage” for the first time during the two week conference in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

Developing countries have been demanding a discussion on climate reparations since Conference of Parties, or COP, meetings started in the early 1990s.

But industrialized nations that have prospered for two centuries at the expense of the planet repeatedly blocked efforts to add it to the agenda, fearing it would open up demands for billions of dollars in compensation from poorer countries.

Recent climate disasters, such as the floods in Pakistan, had put the issue back into focus.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the breakthrough was reached after 48 hours of intense talks concluded with a compromise; the discussion would focus on “cooperation and facilitation” not “liability or compensation.”

“Inclusion of this agenda reflects a sense of solidarity and empathy with the suffering of the victims,” Shoukry said after taking up his position as COP27 president Sunday.

The delegates would aim to reach a conclusive decision on loss and damage “no later than 2024,” he said.

A year of record heat, drought and floods has added urgency to this year’s climate talks.

A report issued Sunday by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures are likely to end the year about 1.15C above the pre-industrial average – an acceleration that’s unleashed “climate chaos” across the planet.

The world is currently on track to miss its target to limit global warming to 1.5C by the century’s end.

With the gathering hosted by an African country that’s warming faster than the rest of the world, climate reparations are expected to be a key focus.

Developing countries and small island states contributed a tiny amount to historical emissions of planet-warming gases but have been battered by the impact. They had stepped up in recent weeks demands for the issue to at least be discussed.

The smooth adoption of the agenda followed behind-the-scenes negotiations to avoid a skirmish at the start of the conference, when the order of proceedings is agreed.

The opening session was delayed for more than an hour to accommodate final discussions on wording.

While Sunday’s agreement counts as a diplomatic success, countries will now have to work out how best to measure loss and damage and how much money will be put on the table by the wealthiest to help the rest.

Developing nations have been burned before. A plan announced in 2009 to provide an annual $100 billion of mitigation and adaptation finance has never been met.

The Alliance of Small Island States welcomed Sunday’s development but said the issue should have been addressed long ago. Instead, rich countries continued to burn fossil fuels that are threatening the survival of some islands.

“We do not want to be treated as though you are doing us a favor by adding an agenda item or creating a voluntary fund,” it said in a statement. This “reflects the floor of what is acceptable; it is our bare minimum.”

Egypt already suffers suffocating heat. The flow of the Nile is dwindling and rising sea levels are damaging some of its most fertile farmland.

As COP27 opened on Sunday, one official after another called for participants to move from talks to implementation, warning that the window for meaningful action was closing.

“A reasonable sum is more than zero,” Saleemul Huq, a professor at the Independent University in Bangladesh, said in an interview. “Right now, they’re offering zero, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

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