Hot Topics: Was COP27 a win for the climate? All about the loss and damage fund, ‘no progress’ on emissions and fossil fuels

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  • At the UN’s annual climate summit, countries agreed to provide payouts to help developing countries deal with the damaging impacts of global warming
  • Critics say, however, that the conference failed to be more ambitious in cutting emissions and abandoning fossil fuels
Doris Wai |
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Vulnerable nations least responsible for planet-heating emissions have been battling for three decades to get wealthy polluters to pay for climate damages. Photo: AP

Hot Topics takes an issue being discussed in the news and allows you to analyse different viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth. Scroll to the bottom of the page for sample answers.

Context: COP27 reaches breakthrough agreement on “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries

  • For the first time, nations agreed to create a fund to compensate poorer countries for the loss and damage they are experiencing because of climate change

  • UN chief Antonio Guterres warns that current progress is still not enough to save the planet from “climate hell”

The annual COP27 climate summit wrapped up earlier this month. For the first time, countries agreed to create a “loss and damage” fund to help vulnerable countries deal with the damaging impacts of global warming.

The fund will provide payouts to developing countries that suffer loss and damage from climate-driven storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. Rich governments had resisted this for years. Loss and damage include bridges and homes destroyed in flash flooding, and cultures and island nations that may disappear due to rising sea levels.

This year’s summit took place from November 6 to 20 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. It featured debates by nearly 200 nations about how to address climate change. The loss and damage fund was a controversial issue at the summit. The agreement is seen as a big win for poorer countries, who often experience climate change’s impacts though they have contributed the least to cause it.

Observers said rich polluters failed to lower carbon emissions and to meet their promise of funding to help countries boost climate resilience. This means that climate change’s impact is getting worse as the planet warms.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told countries gathered at the start of the COP27 summit they face a stark choice: work together now to cut emissions or condemn future generations to climate catastrophe. Photo: AFP

This year, there were many climate-induced disasters. Pakistan saw catastrophic floods. Somalia experienced a severe drought that has put people at high risk of famine. “The establishment of a fund is not about dispensing charity,” said Pakistani climate minister Sherry Rehman. “It is clearly ... an investment in climate justice.”

Despite being the summit’s biggest success, this fund is likely to take several years to work out the details of how it will be run. This includes figuring out how the money will be given out and which countries will be eligible.

Delegates at the global climate conference had taken an “important step towards justice”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on November 20. He had noted at the summit’s start that countries had so far been too slow in cutting emissions to save the planet from excessive warning.

“Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,” he said. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse and DPA

Question prompts:

  • What is the purpose of the COP? Why is it important?

  • What did Guterres mean when he said COP27 had taken an “important step towards justice”?

  • List TWO reasons explaining why the “loss and damage” fund is necessary.

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Cartoon

Cartoon: Craig Stephens

Question prompts:

  • What is pictured in the top half of the hourglass? Based on Context, what might the hourglass and empty chairs in the cartoon represent?

  • With the new loss and damage fund, is this cartoon’s message still relevant? Explain.

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News: Joy and relief at “historic” climate damages deal

  • Developing countries hail the “loss and damage” fund as a landmark victory

  • However, the agreement leaves open a number of crucial details to be worked out, including who would contribute to the fund and who would benefit

Vulnerable nations least responsible for planet-heating emissions have been battling for three decades to get wealthy polluters to pay for climate damages. Their voices were finally heard with the climate fund at COP27.

“It ... shows that this UN process can achieve results, and that the world can recognise the plight of the vulnerable must not be treated as a political football,” said Mohamed Adow, executive director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank amplifying African voices on climate action.

However, the agreement was a balancing act, over seemingly unbridgeable differences. On the one hand, the coalition of 134 developing countries called for the immediate creation of a fund at COP27.

But richer nations like the United States and European Union wanted money to be focused on the most climate-vulnerable countries and for there to be a broader set of donors. That is code for countries including China and Saudi Arabia that have become wealthier since they were listed as developing nations in 1992.

Cuba, which dealt with a deadly tropical storm in June, is just one of many places facing storms of increasing intensity and frequency because of climate change. Photo: AP

Other key points were left ambiguous, or given to a new transitional committee that will be tasked with coming up with a plan for making the decisions a reality for the 2023 UN climate summit in Dubai.

According to Ines Benomar, researcher at think tank E3G, debates about whether China among others should maintain its status as “developing” was likely to re-emerge next year. China is the world’s biggest emitter, though according to the World Bank, countries such as Qatar, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the US had higher carbon dioxide emissions per capita in 2019.

China’s envoy Xie Zhenhua told reporters that the fund should be for all developing countries. But, he added: “I hope that it could be provided to the fragile countries first.”

Adow said that a loss and damage fund was just the first step. “What we have is an empty bucket,” he said. “Now, we need to fill it so that support can flow to the most impacted people who are suffering right now at the hands of the climate crisis.”

Agence-France Presse

Question prompts:

  • Why does News describe the agreement over the new fund as a “balancing act”?

  • China at the summit said it should still be considered a developing country. Use Glossary to list ONE reason for and ONE against this.

  • To what extent do you agree that the loss and damages fund should include a “broader set of donors”? Explain using News and Glossary.

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Issue: COP27 “lacks progress”, falls short on emission cuts

  • Critics say that although a climate fund for poorer nations was established, “no progress” was made to reduce emissions and abandon fossil fuels

  • The new fund deals with damages from global warming but does far less to address the cause of the crisis

The COP27 climate summit drew praise for the creation of a “loss and damage” fund but also anger over a failure to be more ambitious in cutting emissions.

At the end of the conference, UN chief Antonio Guterres praised the creation of the loss and damage fund, but added that the summit fell short in pushing for the urgent carbon-cutting needed to tackle global warming. “Our planet is still in the emergency room,” Guterres said. “We need to drastically reduce emissions now, and this is an issue this COP did not address.”

Separately, France’s energy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said in a statement that the country regretted the “lack of ambition” in the agreement reached at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt despite progress on the fund for vulnerable countries. “No progress” was made on making additional efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and abandon fossil fuels, the statement said.

It added that the summit failed to push ahead on further cutting emissions to keep alive the aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

A sign reading “fossil fuels out” displayed during a demonstration at the COP27 Climate Summit – European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans was disappointed nations did little to address the causes of global warming during the conference. Photo: AP

“The COP27 agreement may not meet the ambitions of France and the European Union,” the statement said, “but it preserves the most vital thing: it underlines the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5C and urges countries to make extra efforts from 2023.”

Meanwhile, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the EU was “disappointed”, adding that more than 80 nations had backed a stronger emissions pledge.

“What we have in front of us ... doesn’t bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emission cuts,” said Timmermans, who had earlier threatened to walk out of the talks.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she was frustrated that the emissions cuts and fossil fuel phase-out were “stonewalled by a number of large emitters and oil producers”.

Agence France-Presse

Question prompts:

  • Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace Germany, described the agreement on a loss and damage fund as a “small plaster on a huge, gaping wound”. Based on Issue, what do the plaster and wound refer to?

  • To what extent do you agree with Kaiser’s statement above? Explain using Issue, Glossary, News and Context.

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Sample answers

Context:

  • What is the purpose of the COP? Why is it important? The purpose of the COP meeting is to provide a platform for world leaders and stakeholders, such as companies and activists, to work together on solutions to tackle climate change. It is important to hold a COP meeting every year so that they can evaluate the progress made and assess if they have achieved the targets agreed upon the year before.

  • What did Guterres mean when he said COP27 had taken an “important step towards justice”? He meant that the “loss and damage” fund showed the conference acknowledged how climate change affects poorer nations, even though they contributed the least to causing it. Thus, richer countries that have been heavy polluters are responsible for helping poorer nations suffering from the climate crisis. (accept other reasonable answers)

  • List TWO reasons explaining why the “loss and damage” fund is necessary. It is necessary because of the climate-induced disasters in places like Pakistan and Somalia, which may not have the resources to deal with the damage to their countries. Climate change’s impact is also getting worse because rich polluters have failed to lower carbon emissions and to help other countries boost climate resilience. (accept other reasonable answers)

Cartoon:

  • What is pictured in the top half of the hourglass? Based on Context, what might the hourglass and empty chairs in the cartoon represent? The top of the hourglass shows half of the globe. It symbolises that the world is running out of time to combat climate change. The empty chairs represent how world leaders have been too slow to save the planet; they could also be showing how rich polluters had failed to lower carbon emissions and to meet their promise of funding to help countries boost climate resilience. (accept other reasonable answers)

  • With the new loss and damage fund, is this cartoon’s message still relevant? Explain. The cartoon is still somewhat relevant because while there is a consensus to set up a loss and damage fund, it is going to take years to sort out the details over how it will be run. This reflects how world leaders lack a sense of emergency in response to the ongoing climate crisis.

News:

  • Why does News describe the agreement over the new fund as a “balancing act”? It is a balancing act because richer nations like the United States and European Union wanted countries such as China and Saudi Arabia to be donors since they have become wealthier since they were listed as developing nations in 1992.

  • China at the summit said it should still be considered a developing country. Use Glossary to list ONE reason for and ONE against this. One reason China should still be considered a developing country is that its GNI per capita in 2021 was below the World Bank’s threshold for being categorised as a developing nation. One reason against this is that China is the world’s second-largest economy.

  • To what extent do you agree that the loss and damages fund should include a “broader set of donors”? Explain using News and Glossary. I agree that the fund should include a broader set of donors because China is the world’s second-largest economy and the biggest emitter despite being categorised as a developing country. Saudi Arabia’s GNI per capita seems like it would disqualify it from being a developing country, and it had very high carbon dioxide emissions per capita in 2019.

Issue:

  • Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace Germany, described the agreement on a loss and damage fund as a “small plaster on a huge, gaping wound”. Based on Issue, what do the plaster and wound refer to? The plaster refers to the loss and damage fund, and the wound refers to global warming.

  • To what extent do you agree with Kaiser’s statement above? Explain using Issue, Glossary, News and Context. I agree with Kaiser’s statement because it highlights that even if the summit has agreed on the climate fund, it is only a reactive “plaster” solution and will not solve the root problem of global warming – fossil fuels and emissions. Unless this is tackled, vulnerable countries will continue to be at the frontlines of climate impact regardless of how much financial aid they are given. Also, a UN report says that the current pledges still would not meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Get the word out

climate change

long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, but since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change. This is mostly because of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, which emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. These greenhouse gases trap heat, which has led to global warming.

COP27

the 27th UN Climate Change Conference. The summit has been held annually since 1995. It is used by governments to agree on policies to limit global temperature rises and adapt to impacts of climate change.

developing country

generally refers to a nation with a low level of industrial or economic development. One way the UN determines if a country falls under this category is its gross national income (GNI) per capita – the total value of a country’s income in a year divided by its population. As of 2022, the World Bank considers places with a GNI per capita below US$12,696 (HK$99,146) as developing countries. While China’s GNI per capita in 2021 was US$11,890, it is the world’s second-largest economy. Saudi Arabia’s figure for 2020 was US$22,270. For comparison, the US GNI per capita in 2021 was US$70,430.

"loss and damage" fund

a historic climate compensation fund that member nations of the COP agreed to create during COP27. In 1991, Vanuatu, an island nation, suggested countries that had done the most to cause climate change over the past 250 years should pay to help countries most affected by it. Rich countries, including the United States and those in Europe, have for decades resisted the idea for fear it would open them up to legal liability for their greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on how deeply the world slashes carbon pollution, loss and damage from climate change could cost developing countries US$290 billion (HK$2.26 trillion) to US$580 billion a year by 2030, according to 2018 research.

stronger emissions pledge

refers to a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Even if all the pledges made so far are delivered, the world is still on track for an average rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius this century, according to a UN report.

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