COP27: Loss and damage dominated the first week of the climate summit

Countries that have contributed the least to climate change but bear the consequences the most have been demanding recognition for decades. They want rich countries responsible for most pollution to pay for the damage. ‘Loss and damage’ was, therefore, the most discussed topic during the first week of the climate summit. Belgium also jumped on the bandwagon, releasing 2.5 million euros for Mozambique.

Extreme rainfall, floods, arid summers and unseen forest fires are just a few symptoms of climate change that are also increasingly affecting Europe. Yet there are plenty of regions where global warming has been hitting mercilessly for some time. Like in Africa, a continent responsible for only 4 per cent of total CO2 emissions. The twenty wealthiest countries, so far less affected by climate change, account for 80 per cent. Therefore, the hardest-hit regions demand compensation from the more prosperous countries.

2.5 million euros ‘loss and damage’

Earlier this week, the Belgian federal government was among the first to make concessions by allocating 25 million euros for development aid to Mozambique. The Belgian federal government will assist the African country between 2023 and 2028 in investing in green energy, and protecting communities and critical infrastructure from natural disasters. Of the 25 million euros, 2.5 million euros will go to ‘loss and damage’.

Scotland and Wallonia (together accounting for 3 million euros) and Denmark (13.4 million euros) previously contributed to this cause. Scotland added another 6 million this week. Austria (50 million euros) and Ireland (10 million euros) also promised to contribute. Germany is putting 170 million euros on the table in the coming years. However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz was less clear about what that money will be used for.

“A single act floating in a sea of passivity from the global north”

Daniel Ribeiro of the Mozambican environmental movement Justiça Ambiental told Euractiv that Belgium’s pledge was “a single act floating in a sea of passivity from the global north. Mozambique is just one of many countries facing this reality. This time we were the chosen ones, but what about the broader systemic solution?” he wondered.

Besides Mozambique, numerous countries are asking for compensation. Therefore, MEP Assita Kanko (N-VA) is not enthusiastic about Belgium releasing money for Mozambique. “I am absolutely against the idea of compensation. That way, you open the door to all the problems the West has to pay for as China continues to not show up to important meetings,” Kanko said. An interesting note is that China, along with 134 developing countries, has put ‘loss and damage’ on the COP27 agenda.

“It is difficult to hold people responsible today for past emissions”

In the meantime, it is not just Kanko who is concerned. Daniel Bodansky, professor of climate law at Arizona State University, also fears the ‘loss and damage’ compensation might open Pandora’s box. “It is difficult to hold people responsible today for past emissions,” he said in an interview with the climate website Carbon Brief. “Too much focus on the past will push countries like the US and China away from the negotiating table,” he argued.

Yet Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and his federal government seem determined to achieve their goal of leaving no one behind. So said the Belgian prime minister during his speech at the start of the climate summit. “What we need today are solutions that work for everyone.”

The latest World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report shows that solutions for everyone are indeed necessary, as it states that temperatures in Europe increased by half a degree Celsius per decade from 1991 to 2021. This means that Europe is warming up twice as fast as the global average.

“Europe gives a good picture of what a warming world looks like, and it reminds us that even well-prepared societies are not safe from the effects of extreme weather events,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, in a press release. In conclusion, more ambitious commitments are necessary for COP27 to be a success.