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Loss and damage: fight against human damage, huge climate costs

It was a total loss – the type that is usually glossed over in large impersonal statistics like $40 billion in damage from this summer’s floods in Pakistan that plunged a third of the nation under water.

“We lost everything, our home and our belongings,” said Taj Mai, a four-month-pregnant mother of seven who is in a relief camp in Pakistan’s Punjab province. “At least in a camp our children will have food and milk.”

It is the human side of a contentious issue that is likely to dominate climate talks in Egypt this month. It’s about big money, justice, blame and accountability. Extreme weather is getting worse as the world heats up, with a study calculating that human-caused climate change has increased flood-causing rains in Pakistan by up to 50%.

As Pakistan was flooded, six energy companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Saudi Aramco and Total Energies – made $97.49 billion in profits from July to September. Poorer nations, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, European leaders and US President Joe Biden are asking fossil fuel companies to pay a windfall tax. Many want some of that money, along with additional aid from rich countries that have spewed out the lion’s share of heat-trapping gases, to be used to pay for countries that suffered from past pollution, such as Pakistan.

The issue of polluters paying for their climate damage is referred to as loss and damage in international climate negotiations. It’s all about repairs.

“Loss and damage is going to be the priority and the determining factor of whether or not COP27 succeeds,” said Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, referring to the climate talks in Egypt. Senior UN officials say they are looking for ‘something meaningful in the loss and damage’ and were ‘certainly encouraged’ by negotiations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday which put the issue on the agenda of the meeting.

The money for loss and damage is different from the other two financial aid schemes already in place to help poorer countries develop carbon-free energy and adapt to future warming.

Since 2009, the world’s rich nations have pledged to spend $100 billion in climate aid for poor nations, with the bulk going to help them wean off coal, oil and natural gas and build more energy systems. greens. Officials now want half of that to be spent on building systems to adapt to future climate disasters.

Neither financial pledge has yet been fulfilled, but both do not address the issue of payment for current and past climate disasters, such as heat waves in India, floods in Pakistan and droughts in Africa.

“Our current levels of global warming at 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) have already caused dangerous and widespread loss and damage to nature and billions of people,” said Climate Analytics scientist Adelle Thomas, of the Bahamas.

“Loss and damage are inevitable and unequally distributed”, with poorer countries, the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable being hit hardest, she said.

After years of not wanting to talk about reparations in climate negotiations, U.S. and European officials say they’re ready to have talks about loss and damage. But the United States – the historic No. 1 carbon polluter – will not accept anything resembling liability, special envoy John Kerry has said.

US emissions that created warmer temperatures caused at least $32 billion in damage to Pakistan’s gross domestic product between 1990 and 2014, according to calculations by Dartmouth climatologists Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin based on past emissions. And that’s only based on temperature-related damage, not precipitation.

“Loss and damage is a way to both acknowledge past damage and to compensate for that past damage,” Mankin said. “This damage is scientifically identifiable. And now, it is up to politics to defend this evil or to remunerate this evil.

According to figures from the Global Carbon Project, the United States puts more carbon dioxide into the air in 16 days by burning fossil fuels than Pakistan does in a year.

American Gas Association CEO Karen Harbert said Americans would not accept such payments to distant countries and that is not the way to think about the matter.

“It’s not just Pakistan. Let’s talk about Puerto Rico. Let’s talk about Louisiana. Other things happening here at home that we also need to pay attention to and help our fellow Americans,” Herbert said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“If there was an opportunity to talk to people in Pakistan, I would say … the solution is first of all, you have the possibility with natural gas to have a much cleaner electricity system than you have today’ today,” she said.

But for Aaisa Bibi, a pregnant mother of four from Punjab province, cleaner and cheaper energy means little when her family has nowhere else to live except a refugee camp.

“With less than 1% of global emissions, Pakistan is definitely not part of the climate change problem,” said Shabnam Baloch, director of the International Red Cross Society of Pakistan, adding that people like Bibi are just trying to survive the storms. floods, heat waves. , droughts, low crop yields, water shortages and inflation.

In Kenya’s semi-arid Makueni County, where a devastating drought has lasted for more than three years, John Gichuki, a 47-year-old goat and sheep herder, said: “It’s traumatic to watch his cattle die from thirst and hunger.

Gichuki’s maize and pulse crops have failed four consecutive seasons. “The farm is solely at the mercy of the climate,” he said.

In India, it is the record heat linked to climate change that has caused deaths and ruined crops. Elsewhere, it’s the devastation of tropical cyclones that are wetter and stronger from the burning of fossil fuels.

This global problem has a parallel in the United States in sometimes contentious discussions about paying for damages caused by slavery.

“In many ways, we’re talking about reparations,” said Sacoby Wilson, a professor of environmental health and justice at the University of Maryland. “It’s an appropriate term to use,” he said, as rich countries in the North have benefited from fossil fuels, while the poorer South bears the brunt of floods, droughts, climate refugees and hunger.

The government of Barbados has suggested changes in the way multinational development banks lend to poorer countries to take into account climate vulnerability and disasters. Pakistan and others called for debt relief.

It’s about “putting yourself in everyone else’s shoes,” said Avinash Persaud, special envoy to Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Persaud suggests a long-term tax on high oil, coal and natural gas prices, but in reverse. At current high energy prices, there would be no tax, so no increase in inflation. But once fossil fuel prices fall by 10%, 1% of the price drop would go to a fund to compensate victims of climate loss and damage, without increasing the cost of living.

UN chief Guterres, who has called the loss and damage move a “litmus test” for the success of the Egyptian climate conference, has named two high-level national officials to try to hammer out a deal: the German climate envoy and former Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan and Chilean environment minister Maisa Rojas.

“The fact that it has been adopted as an agenda item demonstrates progress and the parties are adopting a mature and constructive attitude towards this,” UN Climate Secretary Simon Stiell said during the meeting. of a press conference on Sunday. “It’s a tough subject. It’s been floating around for over thirty years. So the fact that it’s there as a substantive item on the agenda, I think bodes well.”

“What will be most telling is how these discussions progress in substantive discussion over the next two weeks,” Stiell said.


climate data journalists Mary Katherine Wildeman in Hartford, Connecticut, and Camille Fassett in Seattle; Wanjohi Kabukuru in Mombasa, Kenya; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington; Shazia Bhatti in Rajanpur, Pakistan; Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi and Megan Janetsky in Havana, Cuba contributed.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears


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