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Africa’s first COP summit: Talks begin with ‘who will pay for loss and damage’

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The agreement, will allow diplomats to discuss “loss and damage” for the first time in an official setting during the two-week conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The breakthrough was reached after 48 hours of intense negotiations, according to Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who assumed the presidency of COP27 on Sunday. The goal is for delegates to come to a decision “no later than 2024” on loss and damage.

“This creates for the first time an institutionally stable space on the formal agenda of the COP and the Paris Agreement to discuss the pressing issue of funding arrangements needed to deal with existing gaps in responding to loss and damage,” he said.

“Inclusion of this agenda reflects a sense of solidarity and empathy with the suffering of the victims of climate-induced disasters.”

The urgency of this year’s climate talks has increased due to the year’s record heat, drought, and flooding. The issue of loss and damage is anticipated to be a major topic of discussion at the meeting because it will be held in an African nation that is experiencing some of the worst effects of global warming.

Loss and Damage: An apple of discord

Developing nations and small island states, who historically made relatively small contributions to greenhouse gas emissions but have suffered greatly as a result, have increased their pressure in recent weeks to at least have the issue discussed.

Since the beginning of Conference of Parties, or COP, meetings in the early 1990s, the demand has been on the table.

It was repeatedly attempted to be added to the agenda, but industrialised nations that have thrived for two centuries at the expense of the planet had blocked it out of concern that it would lead to demands for billions of dollars in compensation from developing countries.

Recent climate catastrophes, like the floods in Pakistan, have given their push new momentum.

World in crisis

In the midst of numerous competing crises, such as the conflict in the Ukraine, high inflation, food shortages, and an energy shortage, representatives from all over the world gathered on Sunday in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks on combating climate change.

After two frantic days of preliminary negotiations, negotiators decided to formally discuss the issue of vulnerable nations receiving compensation for the loss and damage caused by climate change, marking a first small victory.

Rich countries, including the United States, have been opposing the idea of climate reparations for years, weighing on the negotiations.

“The fact that it has been adopted as an agenda item demonstrates progress and parties taking a mature and constructive attitude towards this,” said the U.N.’s top climate official, Simon Stiell.

He further added, “This is a difficult subject area. It’s been floating for thirty plus years. I believe it bodes well.”

The decision was also welcomed by civil society groups.

“At long last, providing funding to address losses and damages from climate impacts is on the agenda of the U.N. climate negotiations,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute.

But he cautioned that participants “still have a marathon ahead of us before countries iron out a formal decision on this central issue.”

Huge participation reflects urgency

The fact that more than 40,000 people have registered for this year’s talks reflects the sense of urgency as major weather events around the world have a significant human impact and result in billions of dollars in repair costs. About 110 world leaders are expected to attend, according to the organisers, with many of them giving speeches at a high-level event on November 7–8, while U.S. President Joe Biden was anticipated to arrive later in the week.

However, a number of important individuals, including the President Xi Jinping of China, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, did not plan to attend, raising concerns about whether or not the Cairo talks could produce any significant agreements to reduce emissions without the participation of the two largest polluters in the world.

(With inputs from agencies)

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