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Climate “Loss and Damage” Can Change and Restitute the Future

       This November, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) brought the world together in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, for an intervention of sorts. A priority confrontation centered around the United Nations Environmental Programme finding that finance flows to support developing countries in their adaptation to climate change have fallen short of estimated needs. Indeed, the discrepancy between intention and action is surreal when it comes to climate crises. Transnational awareness and mobilization around the issue are more alive than ever after more than five decades of contentious ignorance. Today, 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that humanity is largely responsible for the current intensity of current climate change. An international Pew Research center poll also found that global warming is deemed to be the biggest threat to mankind by a median of 75% across all nationalities. Yet man-made greenhouse gas emissions continue accumulating in the atmosphere and ocean at a rate surpassing current national and international adaptation, mitigation, and conservation efforts. Earth’s physical environment and climate have responded to such negligence with intensifying weather events, permanently altering ecosystems, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. Worsening floods, droughts, heat waves, famines, and storms increase in frequency when carbon emissions continue to increase. Only if the full weight and capacity of restorative global environmental governance are explored can we be saved from this existential crisis.

       Global environmental governance was born in Rio de Janeiro when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) became the first international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 1992 Earth Summit established the annual forum known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), where statesmen, diplomats, negotiators, climate activists, corporations, and civil society representatives meet in the world’s largest gathering on climate action—reconciling economic development and environmental protection all around the globe now seemed possible. Unfortunately, the growing interactive planning did not fulfill its hypothetical potential back when Earth had fewer people, more time to act, and smaller average global per-capita emissions. The protocols, agreements, and decisions created at the yearly COPs rather fell on deaf ears against what has always created conflict and prevented cooperation: power dynamics and short-term gains. 

        In Rio, environmental activists criticized Western countries for the “shamelessly” high levels of natural resource consumption. Optimistically, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol established at COP3 set legally binding emissions targets for developed countries, but 80% of the world was exempt from these emission reductions. This included the fastest-growing economies of China and India, which are today the first and third largest emitters since they were “in development.” Furthermore, the U.S., the world’s second-largest polluter,  never ratified the protocol. Quite the contrary, the country’s widespread neoliberal political project further ingrained unsustainable living standards in the core of human life. In modern capitalist societies such as America, resources are exploited for the sake of mass production, factories pollute, and toxic pesticides are applied to the agriculture industry to the detriment of ecosystems. Liberated corporations with unaccountable power have treated the atmosphere like a sewage dump. Fierce elite opposition to collectively check corporate power through lobbying and free-market mantras has obstructed green policies, kept fossil fuel subsidies, and made people more individualistic and consumerist. Concurrently, the developing world still substantially lagged in modernization or emission responsibility amidst the modernization fetish. Consequently, from 1990 to 2019, 1% of the world’s population created almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions growth.

             Advocates hailed the 2015 Paris Agreement at COP21 as the next landmark agreement that championed warming would be kept below 2 degree Celsius if all submitted nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to slash emissions every five years. The non-binding approach, unlike that of the Kyoto Protocol, could prevent watering down pledges but also made them unenforceable. With no way to enforce compliance at the international level, there was only negotiation and credibility. It is disappointing but unsurprising that nations do not comply when there are no consequences for delaying the necessary green transition. In fact, these voluntary national commitments stated that year set the world on a course toward a three-degree Celsius increase. Low ambitions and fundamental weaknesses in global environmental governance continued to characterize the ongoing effort. 

      The world understands that finite non-renewable resources are both a moral and economic risk, but the pace of green investment is still a huge cause for concern. Bold promises for future decades from governments, such as the Paris Agreement, face delays in being turned into ample policy actions and strategies. Climate change impacts are mounting faster than predicted, and intensifying fears make the rhetoric that progress is ensuing appear more symbolic than authentic. Actions speak louder than words, and at recent COPs, actions have said the climate crisis will continue to be undervalued in the political agenda of many nations. Instead, the perpetual intensification of resource demand and wealth inequality continued to be threat multipliers guiding us in the wrong direction. 

        Then, the COVID-19 pandemic ran rampant and postponed COP26 until 2021 as economies and global trade stagnated. The health crisis interestingly provoked a series of new target emission reductions by 2030, with governments responsible for 70% of world emissions pleading to reach net zero by 2050 or soon after. What is more, what appeared to be an omen for the world to reflect and transform framed climate change as the crisis it had always been? A recent Ipsos poll conducted for the IMF actually found that 43% of individuals were more worried about climate change after the pandemic, with only 7% saying they are less worried.  

     This year, meanwhile, from November 6th to the 19th, environmental diplomacy at COP27 ensued amidst the global energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The shock of Putin’s invasion left nations scrambling and reflected the fragility and unsustainability of current energy systems. This backdrop is yet another phenomenon that reflects the need to transition the world’s dependence on fossil-fuel technology. It has slowed the pace of climate momentum as nations began to use coal once more. But as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated at last year’s COP26, “It is time to go into emergency mode—or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”

        Egypt, which hosted COP27 this year, put in “a lot of effort” to prioritize the question of how to compensate countries already economically suffering from climate change impacts. Mitigation, adaptation, and climate finance gradually became the three key pillars at the annual forum. Mitigation refers to reducing emissions and stabilizing current levels, and adaptation to universal adjusting. Climate financing was established to help those unable to transition towards renewable energy and sustainable policy on their own. Mechanisms such as green infrastructure and improving agricultural practices are both necessary to reduce emissions and inequality. A total of $4.3 trillion in climate funding was pledged to 89 developing nations, with at least $100 billion annually by 2020. Only $83 billion per year was raised, the majority in the form of loans that will have to be repaid. The vagueness of the climate finance framework is yet another reinforcement of the misconception that progress has been as advertised. The longer climate compensation is overshadowed, the deeper climate-induced debt becomes.

         Funding has been a sensitive component of the negotiation process because it has been subtly deemed taboo by major polluters. Collective public response to prevent further warming and subsequent catastrophes has been prolonged precisely because of the embedded power-structure tendencies that hierarchize and alienate nations from one another. Wealthy players dominating globalization and climate change diplomacy, therefore, make directly demanding reparations from the biggest emitters objectionable. Yet such capitalist economies refusing to make their fossil-fuel dependency dormant puts ecological collapse and disastrous impacts on human wellbeing at stake.  

         Meanwhile, Pakistan, which is responsible for 1% of global greenhouse emissions, has seen US $30 billion in damages from severe flooding. The African continent contributes the least to climate change yet will have to spend up to five times more on adapting to the climate crisis than healthcare. By contrast, considering that G20 countries constitute roughly 75% of global greenhouse emissions. The glamor of development and technology dulls with the truth: Under the current scenario, we will not be able to prevent economic, social, and political disasters. 

          Culpability avoidance and deflection are, at least, naturally decreasing the more vulnerable populations who experience extreme weather disasters. Increasing global awareness of intensifying natural phenomena has been a catalyst in creating salience around a topic so historically complex. This is because accountability is both fundamental and directly contributes to making environmental progress at all structural levels. The taboo appeared to break under climactic pressure when a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable populations cope with the exacerbating climate change impacts, and not just mitigation and adaptation, was established at this year’s COP27. This reflects that growing tensions and shifting norms manifested a pivotal impact with unprecedented potential—all the more reason why exposure under a lens of fact and awareness is crucial.

      Although the long-awaited fund was agreed upon, other contentions were not properly debriefed. Interestingly, countries failed to conclusively move away from fossil fuels while more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists, 25% more than last year, were present. And even though the adoption of the long-awaited fund was framed through solidarity as a means of friendly cooperation, the agreement has heavy implications that are important to dissect.

          Understanding that rich nations received the most benefit from fossil fuels and it is developing countries that suffer the most from climate change seemed to gain momentum at the global forum. Additional transgenerational and transnational perspectives can enhance restitution and healing. Such perspectives comprehensively acknowledge the colonial and imperialist roots of subsequent climate justices that explain current global wealth distribution. In addition to protecting our Earth, a society that does not seem like a reflection of our past but truly learns from it is possible if we are willing to go to extremes. The reinforcement of liability and sincerity at international meetings can do more than save humanity’s future. It can alter the trajectory of both our existential dilemma and our species. 

      At this moment, the global climate agreements’ successes and failures highlight the human tendency of self-interest, competition, and ambition. Amending systemic injustices and climate injustices go hand in hand for this reason. Therefore, revolutionizing these underlying passions in the environmental arena will require radical restitution and reform. For example, deploying ethical and legal mechanisms to enforce climate and funding pledges would significantly benefit multi-level and multilateral movements. Such authority may have to subjugate the anarchic norms of international relations, but it is a change to ameliorate global environmental governance. The science-backed and public consensus fired up sufficient global urgency and desperation to justify such a historic move. Moreover, correlating climate politics with all other universal priority topics would make the value of pro-climate policies more palpable for taxpayers and benefit the legitimate interests of the vulnerable. The more climate activism makes its way into the people’s agenda, the more legislation and policy reform follows.

Featured Image Source: China Dialogue

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