On Saturday, negotiators reached a fragile agreement on the outlines of an international fund for countries that have been severely affected by climate change. The agreement was reached after intense and contentious discussions, hinting at potential disagreements that may arise during the upcoming global climate talks. Notably, the United States pushed for a provision in the agreement stating that contributions to the fund would be voluntary. This allows the Biden administration the choice of whether or not to make contributions to the fund
The recent negotiations over climate aid took place just weeks before the start of a global climate conference in Dubai, where representatives from almost 200 nations will gather. The discussions highlighted a deep-rooted mistrust that developing countries have towards the United States and other wealthy nations due to previous unfulfilled financial commitments.
The outcome of the weekend debate left all parties involved dissatisfied, including the United States. A Finnish negotiator, Outi Honkatukia, described the proposed text as a "take it or leave it" deal. The document includes recommendations for the structure of a climate fund that would support poorer nations affected by the consequences of climate change, such as rising seas, floods, and droughts.
According to the text, the World Bank would host the fund on an interim basis for four years, which can be seen as a partial victory for the U.S. However, a future board would be responsible for creating a system to distribute the funds. The United States had proposed that the World Bank should permanently house the fund. These proposals will be further discussed at the global climate talks, known as COP28.
According to Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the Emirati president of this year's conference, the adoption of the recommended approach at COP28 is crucial for the billions of people, lives, and livelihoods that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The talks leading up to the final moments were filled with drama. When Honkatukia, the Finnish negotiator, declared the text final by banging her gavel, the U.S. negotiator, Christina Chan, expressed her disagreement stating, "It is not a consensus document."
This exchange highlights the disagreements and challenges faced during the negotiations, emphasizing that there may be differences in opinions and perspectives on the final outcome of the talks.
A State Department official expressed satisfaction that the committee reached agreement on several aspects of the loss and damage fund. However, they regretted that the text did not reflect consensus on the need for clarity regarding the voluntary nature of contributions.
Some climate activists criticized the outcome, stating that the U.S. lacked good faith in delivering an effective fund, even after pressuring developing countries into accepting a watered-down text. This criticism came from Lien Vandamme, a senior campaigner at the Center for International Environmental Law.
When the committee began meeting in Abu Dhabi, several unresolved issues remained, including the hosting of the fund and which countries would have access to its money. However, the most contentious issue was determining the contributors and financial support for the fund.
Developing countries held wealthy nations, including the U.S., responsible for not adequately supporting poor and vulnerable nations affected by climate-related disasters. Avinash Persaud, the lead negotiator for Barbados, emphasized that these countries could not accept a retreat to relying solely on volunteerism, as it increased the financial burden and losses for the poorest countries.
The final text calls on developed countries to provide financial support and also opens up the fund to potential contributions from the private sector and other innovative sources.
Both developed and developing countries agreed to the text with the hope of further improving the fund in the future.
A committee made up of 24 members representing rich and poor countries has been working to establish the operations of the loss and damage fund. However, the talks collapsed last month due to significant disagreements between developed and developing countries. This led to the negotiator from Egypt threatening legal liability for climate damages if big polluters, including the U.S., refused to pledge money to the fund.
The U.S. has urged for voluntary contributions, claiming that there is no obligation for rich countries to pay for loss and damage under the Paris Agreement. Moreover, Congress has opposed climate funding for a long time, which has been a challenge for U.S. negotiations.
Furthermore, a 2009 commitment by wealthy nations to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for the recovery of poor countries from climate impacts remains unfulfilled. Developing countries aim for the loss and damage fund to be allocated $100 billion annually by 2030, in addition to their requests to the committee.
Only a limited number of small countries have so far pledged to contribute to the loss and damage fund, and the U.S. is not among them.
The committee's recommendations will now be discussed by country negotiators at COP28, with the objective of launching the fund as soon as possible.