A boy walks past a flood-damaged building near Nakuru, Kenya on September 17, 2022.

A boy walks past a flood-damaged building near Nakuru, Kenya on September 17, 2022. (Photo: James Wakibia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

US Coalition Calls on John Kerry to Back Loss and Damage Funding at COP27

"It's past time for the United States and other rich nations to acknowledge the terrible, unjust burden they are imposing on low-income, climate-vulnerable countries and fully own their responsibility to address this crisis," said one advocate.

A broad coalition of nearly 150 progressive groups based in the United States on Monday urged the Biden administration to commit to "meaningful advances" on the provision of "loss and damage" financing at the United Nations' rapidly approaching COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

"The discussion is one thing, and the actual provision of money is another."

Long a pillar of the climate justice movement, loss and damage funding seeks to compensate developing nations for the destruction being caused by decades of unmitigated greenhouse gas pollution driven primarily by wealthy countries' inordinate use of fossil fuels. Although humanity's poorest members bear the least responsibility for the planetary emergency, they are already suffering the most and remain highly vulnerable and ill-equipped to handle its increasingly deadly consequences.

"It's past time for the United States and other rich nations to acknowledge the terrible, unjust burden they are imposing on low-income, climate-vulnerable countries and fully own their responsibility to address this crisis," Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

As the coalition wrote in a letter addressed to John Kerry, President Joe Biden's special presidential envoy for climate:

Just this year, climate-driven extreme events including terrible floods in Pakistan; persistent drought in the Horn of Africa, intense heatwaves in parts of Asia, Africa, South America, the United States, Australia, and Europe; and severe wildfires in Europe, Russia, and North America have taken a deadly and costly toll. Slow-onset climate disasters like sea-level rise, desertification, and threats to food and water supplies are also exerting a significant impact already and will get worse. In addition to economic losses, climate change is also leading to loss of cultural heritage, ways of life, biodiversity, and other profound non-economic losses. The most extreme of these impacts are already beyond the ability of frontline nations and communities to respond to through ordinary adaptation measures. Low-income countries and marginalized communities are bearing a disproportionate burden of the resulting losses and damages, and will continue to do so.

The responsibility and obligation of richer nations like the United States is clear, as they have caused the majority of the heat-trapping emissions to date that are driving these climate extremes. The United States in particular is responsible for nearly a quarter of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution began, by far the largest share of any individual nation. Yet the U.S.'s negotiating posture on loss and damage has been recalcitrant, creating a major obstacle to meeting the urgent needs of climate-vulnerable countries and causing great harm to our nation's reputation on the world stage, including most recently at COP26 in Glasgow last November and at the climate conference in Bonn this June.

Nearly 10 years have passed since the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, but "there has been no progress on securing meaningful action on providing finance for this critical issue," states the letter.

"Development assistance and episodic humanitarian aid in response to disasters are no substitute for the robust, predictable, and ongoing streams of needs-based funding that are necessary to protect people, ecosystems, and livelihoods against disasters before they occur," the letter continues. "Private or philanthropic funding is also not a substitute for public sources of funding. Adaptation funding is also not adequate to address the kinds of climate extremes that are beyond the limits of ordinary adaptive measures."

During last year's COP26 meeting, Scotland committed just over $2 million to loss and damage funding, becoming the first government to do so. Scotland was followed by Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium, which earmarked about $1 million for the cause.

However, negotiators "failed to secure the establishment of a dedicated new damages fund vulnerable nations had pushed for earlier in the summit," Reutersreported at the close of the event, due to "resistance from the United States, the European Union, and some other rich nations."

On Monday, the coalition implored the Biden administration to "stop blocking progress" and to "work constructively" at COP27 from November 6-18 to advance a pact to create a so-called Finance Facility, which would be a dedicated loss and damage funding mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Bloomberg reported last week that the White House has decided to support formal U.N. negotiations on loss and damage payments during next month's summit.

"The outsized role the U.S. has played in perpetuating the climate crisis demands that we support and resource those already experiencing devastating climate impacts."

"The U.S. acknowledgment of the need to discuss loss and damage financing is welcome," Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, said Monday. "But the discussion is one thing, and the actual provision of money is another."

"The Biden administration must support arrangements for the direct funding of loss and damage needs in developing countries," said Wu. "Anything less is just saying nice things while still doing nothing for countless frontline communities facing climate catastrophe."

Last month, Denmark became the first U.N. member to pledge loss and damage funds, allocating roughly $13 million to Africa's Sahel region and other areas devastated by extreme weather disasters.

Not only does this sum pale in comparison to the more than $5 trillion in unpaid damages that fossil fuels are estimated to cause each year, but critics have warned that a substantial portion of the promised funding is structured in a way that could enrich private insurers at the expense of those most in need.

Mara Dolan of the Women's Environment and Development Organization on Monday emphasized the need for "robust public, grants-based financing for loss and damage."

"The outsized role the U.S. has played in perpetuating the climate crisis demands that we support and resource those already experiencing devastating climate impacts," said Dolan. "We reject attempts to use loss and damage conversations to entrench the wealth and exploitation of colonial financial institutions, private financial actors, and rich nations, and urge the U.S. at COP27 to support public, grants-based finance that centers resource redistribution to frontline communities and countries."

Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, noted that the U.S., led by Kerry and other officials, "has long attempted to put off paying an enormous multidecade debt it owes low-income countries."

"Mr. Kerry says the cost is too high, even for the wealthiest country in the world? Then, instead of abandoning those most exposed by the global crisis," said Jackson, "the U.S. should hold liable the Big Polluters--the Exxons, the Totals, the Shells, the BPs, the Kochs--instead of doing their bidding."

Monday's letter--organized by ActionAid USA, Corporate Accountability, Friends of the Earth U.S., Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Women's Environment and Development Organization, Taproot Earth, and Oxfam America--attracted a total of 143 signatories.

U.S. support for loss and damage funding, the signatories argued, must be seen as supplementary to rapidly slashing planet-heating emissions and contributing a fair share to climate finance for mitigation and adaptation.

"We simply cannot afford any more years of failure and delay as people lose their lives, homes, and livelihoods or face devastating food and water shortages as a result of a problem they had little part in causing," the letter stresses. "The success of COP27 depends crucially on richer, polluting nations like the United States ramping up their climate finance contributions and demonstrating a clear willingness and solidarity to address loss and damage in a meaningful way."

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