Loss and Damage Negotiations in Overdrive; Right to ‘Healthy Environment’ Drops Out
Frans Timmermans, the EU climate negotiator on Friday speaking with reporters as negotiations over the bloc’s proposal on climate loss and damage headed into overtime Friday.

SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT – Michael Terungwa, a solar entrepreneur in Abuja, Nigeria, will know that real progress is being made on climate change when things change in his hometown. 

When the 10-20% in customs and tariffs that he pays for cheap, imported Chinese solar panels are removed; when his customers’  solar purchases are subsidized instead of their purchases of generator oil that run with deafening noise and pollute the air; and when Africa’s richest man begins to invest in renewables – rather than fossil fuels so that he can buy and sell better, quality-assured panels, batteries and other accessories locally.

While Terungwa believes that the outcomes being negotiated by governments at COP27 could and should make a difference, he has seen, from first-hand experience in Nigeria as well as at this year´s COP, the limits of politicians as leaders of change.

He’s hoping that change will still happen. But it’ll likely come in a variety of forms. It may ride on a wave of popular demands for climate action during upcoming Nigerian elections that follow in the wake of devastating floods.  It may come in the form of mounting pressure to reform both regional and global financial institutions that continue to lend more money for fossil fuel projects than renewables, while holding low-income countries shackled with debts.  And eventually, he’s also hoping that the private sector will someday be on right side of change – including Africa’s richest man.  

“If Aliko Dankote decides to invest in renewable energy, in solar, then it will change,” concluded Terungwa, referring to the Nigerian magnate who is currently spending $25 billion to build the Dangote Oil Refinery, the world’s largest, near Lagos. 

Delegates still locked in dispute over loss and damage

Michael Terungwa runs a solar social enterprise in Abuja, and attended COP27 as the member of a Nigerian civil society group.

Terungwa spoke to Health Policy Watch in the waning days of the COP27 conference as delegates battled frantically over the terms of a proposal to create a new fund for countries’ loss and damage from climate change. 

Over the past two days, discussions have centered around a recent European Union proposal to support such a fund, but only if it is also linked to stronger commitments on climate mitigation, and receives financial backing from China, now the world´s second largest emitter, as well as Gulf states that have grown rich on oil exports.

Delegates also continued to debate the framing of the Paris commitment to the 1.5C limit for global warming. But as talks entered overtime on Friday evening, the draft outcome language now circulating was stock text, lacking the reference to “urgent” that had been injected into a G20 communique issued earlier in the week. 

The latest draft text also waters down the COP26 commitment of Glasgow to “phase out inefficient fossil field subsidies,” calling instead for countries to “phase out and rationalize” such subsidies, leaving more diplomatic wiggle room for countries to justify fossil fuel investments that lock the economies into carbon intensive development.

Language refers in passing to the “right to health”, a word that was not even mentioned in the outcome document of the COP26 Glasgow conference.  But an earlier reference to peoples’ right to the “highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” in the climate context had fallen out of the latest text circulating Friday evening – something that would have been a precedent-setting nod to the terms of the World Health Organization´s 1948 constitution.   

Without loss and damage, we cannot achieve Agenda 2030

Youths were a visible presence at the largest climate conference ever, with 35,000 participants.

Like many other civil society participants Health Policy Watch spoke to throughout the week, Terungwa was critical of the continued fence-sitting of governments on fossil fuels development, whether from leaders in the global north or south.  He supports a strong commitment to the 1.5C goal aligned with a halt to new fossil fuel investments of almost any kind. 

But he also was concerned that the lack of a strong outcome on the charged issue of loss and damage would ultimately jinx the prospects for sustainable development, condemning millions of people in climate vulnerable regions like Nigeria to an ever more precarious future.

“With no strong commitment and possible outcome as COP27 comes to an end, I am very much afraid that the thousands of Nigerians who were displaced as a result of the recent floods and are currently in internally displaced camps, will not benefit from Loss and Damage,” said Terungwa, whose enterprise also provides IDP camps with solar electricity, and attended COP as part of the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (GIFSEP).

“I can tell you confidently that without loss and damage, we cannot achieve Agenda 2030 or the Sustainable development Goals, because all 17 goals are impacted once there is a climate disaster.  

“The sad reality is that those responsible for this crisis know exactly what to do, but sadly they are not doing it. We continue to call for justice on this matter.”

Debate over China’s participation in the fund  

Negotiations in Glasgow at COP26 almost collapsed over the question of coal. The fulcrum in Sharm el-Sheikh is loss and damage – with debates likely to extend over the entire weekend, if not beyond.

The European Union’s agreement on Thursday to include loss and damage in the outcome document was supposed to be a breakthrough.  However, the EU`s “final offer” Friday morning came with tough conditions attached. 

 “We can live with a fund, but under two very important conditions: the fund should be targeted to the most vulnerable, and it should also have a broad funding base,” the bloc´s chief climate negotiator, Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, told the press on Friday.

Translated, that means China and oil-rich Gulf nations, which may have been considered developing states when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created in 1992, but are large CO2 emitters today, should also contribute financially. That is a position which China has so far rejected. 

“There we have a disagreement,” Timmermans said. The money should come from a “broad funder base” and be based on the economic realities “in 2022, not 1992.”

Without agreement, other aspects of the negotiations may crumble

COP 27
On 21 September 2022 people wait in the midday sun for the water troughs to fill with water in Marsabit County, Kenya. With an ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa, the spring is the only available water source for the whole community.

A second draft of an outcome text shared by the Egyptian Presidency Friday evening still contained placeholder text for loss and damage, but no clear language suggesting a way forward on the thorny issue.  Meanwhile, media reports said negotiators were frantically debating a last-ditch EU proposal on mechanisms for creating the fund within a two year time frame.. 

“As the hours tick by, there is still time for wealthy nations at COP27 to agree to the long-overdue Loss and Damage finance,” said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance. “Without agreement, all other aspects of the negotiations may crumble.”

In his comments Friday, Timmermans said the bloc’s resistance to the idea of a fund was not about funding commitments, but efficiency.

 “My reluctance with a fund is I know from past experience that it takes time before such a fund is established, and even more time until such a fund is filled,” he said. “I truly believe we could move faster by adapting existing instruments.” The United States shares EU concerns about the inefficiency of a fund, preferring a “mosaic” of financial arrangements. It has yet to comment on the EU’s new proposal. 

The EU proposal hinges on the condition that countries agree to “a package deal with serious plans on mitigation” including “an agreement to peak emissions in 2025” and update NDCs accordingly, Timmermans said further.

Tensions around the right of developing nations to continue to exploit their fossil fuel resources in the name of development remain a sticking point in negotiations. But the EU stance is clear. 

“If we don’t seriously reduce our emissions, there is no amount of money on this planet that can address the issue of loss and damage,” Timmermans said. “This is our final offer. I thank all our member states for the courage to go this far, but this is it.”

1.5°C’s dying breath

Global mean temperature increase as recorded in the 2022 WMO State of the Global Climate provisional report.

A week before COP27 began, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Adaptation Report found “no credible pathway” to limiting warming to the 1.5°C limit. 

The latest draft document still “reaffirms the resolution to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. 

But the language is lukewarm at best, lacking the more strident tone of the recent G20 communique, which stated only last week that “The resolve to try and limit the temperature increase to 1.5C is urgent.” 

Not only that, Friday’s backslides around fossil fuel subsidies, in subtle but significant ways.  The COP26 Glasgow document calls for the “phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

The COP27 draft language adds a single word laden with meaning. It calls to “phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil field subsidies,” creating wiggle room for signatories to justify investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure, and deepening their reliance on oil and natural gas. 

This in contrast to sharp warnings by not only climate scientists, but also the International Energy Agency, which has said no new oil, gas or coal development can be undertaken if the world is serious about addressing the climate crisis. 

Health makes its first appearance in draft text – then fades 

WHO humanitarian response after cyclone Idai in Mozambique. More frequent flooding and droughts are devasting Africa and Asia.

Health has long been an overlooked dimension of climate discussions despite its deadly consequences. Air pollution claims 7 million lives every year, and 65% of the pollution from human activities is from fossil fuels.

The threats of heat stress, sea level rise and drought threaten the health of older people, children and outdoor workers, as well as food and water security of over a third of the world’s current population, putting them at risk of forced migration if temperature rise is not curbed.

Determined to work health into a COP27 agenda set to define the world’s response to the climate crisis, the global health community arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh en masse. 

The WHO COP27 pavilion was packed with crowds throughout a two-week marathon of sessions on climate and health.

And when the initial draft outcome text was circulated Thursday by the Egyptian Presidency, those efforts seemed to have paid off. 

Text on ‘highest attainable standard’ for health is dropped

(Second from left) Maria Neira, WHO’s director of the Department of Climate, Environment and Health at WHO’s COP27 pavilion

The draft text referred to the need to ensure the “highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” in the world’s response to the climate crisis – language hearkening back the WHO’s 1948 Constitution for the first time ever in a climate document. 

But when the second draft of the outcome document was made public Friday night, that reference had disappeared. 

Another passage affirming “the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right” was also removed. That passage recalled a milestone United Nations General Assembly Resolution passed in September 2022.

The notion of health as a human right has not been completely lost.

The latest draft outcome document still calls on signatories to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

Healthy forests: acknowledged but not funded

Oil and gas projects in Africa are set to quadruple; 90% of projectsthat overlap with sensitive forests, are in the Congo Basin, the world´s second largest rainforest.

So far, the reference to “healthy forests” and their role they serve in “climate regulation, biodiversity protection, food and water security, soil fertility and limiting forced migration” has remained intact in the latest draft. 

But the text also fails to include any provision to compensate developing countries for forest preservation – ignoring calls from the 50-member Coalition for Rainforest Nations that say finance is critical to halting the deforestation of critical ecosystems. 

Although Brazil´s President-elect Lula da Silva  vowed to end deforestation of the Latin American rainforest in a speech earlier this week, it is clear he will have to balance those promises against powerful economic interests at home.  

The Democratic Republic of Congo, meanwhile, has made no such vow. Rather, it has put large areas of the Congo Basin rainforest up for auction as oil and gas blocs. That would not only erode the integrity of the world’s second largest rain forest, but also unleash dangerous quantities of methane buried in extensive peatlands.

Without strong countervailing financial incentives, it´s unlikely that the DRC will back down.   

“The role of forests and peatlands was removed from the cover decision,” Eve Bazaiba, DRC vice prime minister told reporters on Thursday. “So we are asking ourselves, what are we doing here?”

The Children Are the Adults in the Room 

Amid the chaos overtaking the conference Friday morning, one voice broke through the noise. That voice belongs to Nakeeyat Dramani, a 10-year-old from Ghana speaking on behalf of her country’s delegation during plenary. 

“As we sit here, the fate of the most vulnerable will be the fate of the world,” she told a room of attendees and world leaders thirty to sixty years her senior. “Do not leave our communities exposed.”

Dramani’s address was a reminder of the power a youthful perspective injects into the climate conversation. 

“Remember yourself at my age,” she asked the delegates. “If all of you were to be young people like me, wouldn’t you have already agreed to do what is needed to save our planet?”

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Image Credits: @TimmermansEU, E Fletcher/Health Policy Watch, WHO Africa, World Metereological Organization, WHO, Rainforest Foundation and Earth Insights, 2022.

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