COP 27 delivers progress on Loss and Damage but fails on fossil fuels

Publish Date: 
Monday, November 21, 2022

This year alone we have seen extreme weather events and slow-onset processes resulting in catastrophic loss and damage (impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided through adaptation and mitigation activities), leading to serious human rights harm all across the world affecting millions of people, for which, historical and present responsibility lies with wealthy, highly industrialized countries and powerful corporate actors. Loss and damage is a human rights crisis (more on our analysis here), and States, particularly wealthy and highly industrialized nations, have clear legal obligations to urgently and meaningfully address loss and damage, both in terms of the symptoms and the root causes. Many ESCR-Net members confront climate impacts on the frontlines and forcefully resist the structural drivers thereof. Loss and damage has thus been taken up as a collective ESCR-Net priority for the past three years.

Ahead of and during COP 27, the annual UN climate change conference, ESCR-Net members joined with other alliances to issue a powerful call to action, urging States to deliver at scale on loss and damage.

READ: Joint demands for COP27 outcomes HERE and a short summary version here.

What happened at COP 27 on Loss and Damage?

At COP 27, held this year between 6-18 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, more than 30 ESCR-Net members–including Indigenous, social movement and feminist leaders–were present to advocate for human rights at the heart of climate negotiations and meaningful action on loss and damage, engaging alongside other civil society and movement allies in intense advocacy and action to influence negotiation outcomes, raising cross-regional demands and elevating a systemic analysis of the root causes of climate change and the global inequalities that it is intensifying. 

In a historic decision, after 30 years of delay and inaction, Parties at COP 27 established a Loss and Damage fund, a first step towards redress and accountability for the human rights harm caused to millions confronting climate impacts on the frontlines.  

As per the relevant decision text:

“The Conference of the Parties … 

Acknowledge the urgent and immediate need for new, additional, predictable and adequate financial resources to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in responding to economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, especially in the context of ongoing and ex post (including rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction) action; 

Decide to establish new funding arrangements for assisting developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in responding to loss and damage, including with a focus on addressing loss and damage by providing and assisting in mobilizing new and additional resources, and that these new arrangements complement and include sources, funds, processes and initiatives under and outside the Convention and the Paris Agreement; 

Also decide, in the context of establishing the new funding arrangements referred to…above, to establish a fund for responding to loss and damage whose mandate includes a focus on addressing loss and damage.”

The fact that we have a fund at all is testament to the immense collective power of the unity of social movement and Indigenous leaders, civil society campaigners, and the G77 plus China, building on tireless efforts over decades, staring down relentless initiatives to block the fund from the outset from countries like the USA and some EU nations.

Much work remains to be done in terms of operationalizing the loss and damage fund and implementation thereof to ensure that the fund is not just an empty shell but fit-for-purpose, sufficiently resourced, and in line with human rights, climate justice, and the needs of communities and Indigenous Peoples. Moreover, while we welcome the much needed establishment of a finance facility, we recognize that no amount of money can recompense communities who have suffered the irreparable losses of their territories, cultures and traditions.

At COP 27, we also saw the operationalization of the implementation arm of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), namely the Santiago Network, an important element to ensure the WIM delivers on its third function: enhancing action and support through catalyzing technical assistance. Text was adopted affirming that technical assistance provided by the Santiago Network for Loss a should be in line with the Paris Agreement's preambular text on human rights, including also other human rights aligned language and considerations, such as ensuring representation from the women and gender constituency, indigenous peoples organizations, and children and youth non-governmental organizations on the Advisory Board of the Santiago Network, and gender reporting including through the use of gender-disaggregated data. The text is far from perfect but creates a foundation for human rights-based approaches. We know human rights-based climate action leads to more effective outcomes – what will be important now is to monitor how this all plays out in practice, reinforcing the existing human rights obligations of States. 

In Conclusion

This COP was a difficult one held in context of intense repression of civil society when it should be self-evident that there can be no just and sustainable climate action without open civic space and the effective protection of defenders within the UNFCCC and far beyond. As organizers and campaigners have said loud and clear: no climate justice is possible without human rights. There was also an outrageous conflict of interest on display and overt corporate capture with the participation of a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists pushing for narrow, planet-wrecking interests over the needs of those most affected by the climate crisis (a crisis driven by the fossil fuel industry), and shaping conference outcomes. We insist on kicking big polluters out of UNFCCC. This is essential as a starting point to resist corporate capture of climate policy-making, one of the biggest obstacles to advancing real solutions. 

In terms of key outcomes relevant to our collective work, COP 27 was the first environmental negotiation process to include an explicit reference to the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This was made possible due to sustained civil society advocacy and hopefully will support with strengthening environmental governance across the board. We take a moment to celebrate the gains made in loss and damage recognizing that the real fight lies ahead in translating initial steps into strong outcomes meaningful for those most affected by climate impacts. We also strongly call out the abysmal failure of Parties to make any significant collective progress on the phase out of all fossil fuels. Loss and damage cannot be adequately addressed without tackling the root causes of the climate crisis. Continued addiction to fossil fuels will only see impacts worsening, leading to continued and devastating human rights harm. We will continue to resist fossil fuel production and expansion and fight for a just and equitable phase out of all fossil fuels. In overarching ways, ESCR-Net members will continue the collective struggle to center human rights, gender equality and climate justice at the heart of all climate action.

Member Reactions:

Patricia Wattimena, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Thailand
"The failure of COP27 to address the immediate, just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels is extremely dangerous. This monstrous industry is destroying the planet on a massive scale, threatening communities, and is behind the killings of environmental and women's human rights defenders. We cannot keep the 1.5 alive or address loss and damage while allowing fossil fuels to keep burning. Real climate solutions and fossil fuel industry- they cannot live under the same sky." 

Laura Duarte Reyes, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
“The long overdue decision to establish a loss and damages fund is a victory for countries and communities on the front lines of the climate crisis. The challenge now is to ensure it is operationalized in line with human rights and fits to the needs of those most affected by climate change. To truly move towards climate justice, major emitting countries must meet their international legal commitments and phase out all fossil fuels. Should this not be fulfilled, courts will increasingly step in to hold both states and corporations accountable.”

Martha Devia, Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, Colombia 
"It is quite clear that natural disasters caused by multiple reasons such as the unbridled greed of this global economic system and the exorbitant emissions of greenhouse gases, are not only causing an accelerated increase in global warming, but also causing irreparable loss and damage to ecosystems, significantly reducing the wealth of flora and fauna and profoundly affecting the lives of human beings. There is no sufficient money to mitigate these problems and there is no reparation or justice for the loss of worldviews and ancestral practices of indigenous and peasant communities. The only way out is to stop the machinery and move towards other forms of life that are more balanced and in harmony with our natural environment."

Daniel Kobei, Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), Kenya

"In my view this was the first time a larger number of Indigenous Peoples and their organizations participated at COP, and hence there was a lot discussed, including on Loss and Damage, and what it means to us the Indigenous Peoples. We appreciate that Parties agreed on the establishment of a loss and damage fund, but as it is always in such big funds, less may be forthcoming for Indigenous peoples and local communities who are the ones feeling climate impacts the most. We have drought, which is facing the pastoralists in Kenya, the floods, the landslides.  The erosion of culture, language and denial of spirituality may not all be tangible, hence compensation in such contexts is equally intangible. The involvement of Indigenous Peoples and their organizations in the case of loss and damage is key as their issues are more unique. It is fundamentally important to have the Indigenous Peoples on board in relation to the loss and damage fund from the start and not just in the future."

Ahmed Elseidi, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egypt
"The failure of  Parties to adopt a discourse that includes the phasing out of fossil fuels and a discourse that includes respect for human rights empties any progress that occurred in establishing the Loss and Damage fund of its content, as this will result in an increase in the severity of the effects of climate change on the one hand, and on the other hand, ignoring human rights in climate action will increase human rights violations reducing peoples’ abilities to cope with climate impacts, and this in turns increases damages resulting from climate change, and this increases the amounts needed for the Loss and Damages fund, which confirms walking in a vicious circle."

Radiatu H.S. Kahnplaye, Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP), Liberia
"If it took 30 years of climate talks for developed countries to agree to provide finance to help rescue and rebuild poorer countries stricken by climate-related disasters, known as “Loss and Damage”, I hope it will not take many more years to translate this agreement into practical actions to put human rights before business profits as well ensure that there is equal and fair share for all, especially women who face the worse heat of the climate crises. Whether or not Paris permits liability for loss and damage, it is clear that there are so many issues of liabilities when it comes to loss and damage. We will continue to consider in depth these liability issues as a basis to secure true climate justice."

Christine Kandie, Endorois Indigenous Women Empowerment Network (EIWEN), Kenya
"It was my first time to COP and I am happy to have participated in this exceptional opportunity for myself and my community. Together with other ESCR-NET members, we campaigned for loss and damage contributing to civil society and movement efforts to successfully secure a loss and damage fund. I am proud to have participated in a side event on disability and climate change, bringing in diverse conversations from people with disabilities who are most ignored in climate change conversations while we bear most the brunt of climate impacts. Disability justice must be central to climate action. We at EIWEN will continue our good work to take forward climate justice and human rights."

Kavita Naidu, International Human Rights Lawyer
"The credit for finally getting an agreement to establish a Loss & Damage fund belongs to the unyielding lobbying of activists in the sterile halls of COPs for decades. But an agreement is far removed from those who are already at risk of losing their lives and suffering permanent and irreversible damage as seen increasingly across the Global South. Leaders of developed countries reluctantly concede because pressure is mounting to act. The question is when will these agreements translate to honest implementation such as phasing out fossil fuels? Protecting human rights? Paying up fair shares? Agreements do not mean a thing for people who are losing everything."

Francisco Rocael, Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj, Guatemala

"Undoubtedly, the COP 27 Agreements, including on the loss and damage fund are not enough to achieve climate justice, however, represent a significant advance that will need to be insisted upon and monitored for its compliance and implementation, above all, to guarantee that financing reaches those who are on the front lines , under democratic procedures and without conditions and that the voice of women and indigenous peoples be taken into account. We leave for the record that climate justice and the reduction of global warming will only be possible with a change in paradigm and life model, where distribution takes precedence over wealth accumulation, where human rights are more important than investment, where austerity comes before unlimited consumption, when the collective rights of indigenous peoples and the rights of mother earth are respected."

Hala Murad, Dibeen Association for Environmental Development, Jordan

"At COP 27, important steps were achieved in some negotiation tracks while we saw serious setbacks in other areas. This was expected given the reality of the geopolitical conditions the world is witnessing. COP27 cannot be called an implementation conference as advertised because to achieve implementation we must not just address the impacts of climate change but reduce emissions in every way possible to stay within the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, a broad title for this conference can be considered to be the compensation conference for loss and damage, but all decision-makers must recognize that financing alone will not be the solution because the loss is greater than any kind of compensation, specifically the loss of human life, which has become greatly threatened in many regions of the world as a result of the multiple manifestations of climate change."

Sabine Pabst, FIAN International
"The dedicated advocacy work done, and in particular the vocal expressions of those most affected, so that finally this important breakthrough on loss and damage at COP 27 could be achieved, is indeed laudable. We urge states to take loss and damage seriously and to stop the use of fossil fuels as well as agroindustry and seriously move towards the needed transition, including the transformation of food systems. Indigenous Peoples’, peasants’, fishers’, pastoralists’, agricultural workers’ and other local communities’ production and management practices, in particular agroecology, have to be fostered and defended in line with the provisions outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), against the dominant industrial food system as major driver of the climate emergency and eco-destruction. It will be important to continue and strengthen documenting and analyzing cases of loss and damage from a human rights perspective, and monitoring laws and policies, to address and unveil dominant corporate-driven climate narratives and false solutions, hold responsible authorities accountable and demand redress."

See Also:

WATCH: Our COP27 Side Event- Loss and Damage, Human Rights & State and Corporate Accountability: Our Fight for Climate Justice (available in floor language only)

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