COP28 Creates Milestone Legislation On Its First Day
Or is this a thinly veiled smoke screen?
The past year has shown just how devastating even a tiny bit of climate change can be. However, over the next few decades, global warming is set to ramp up dramatically and send the entire world into turmoil. Yet, it won’t be the rich nations who are responsible for this planetary destruction that will pay the price; it will be the poor and developing who are crushed. This catastrophic inequity is a profound moral dilemma the international community has strived to solve for years. Well, on the first day of COP28, a global Loss & Damage Fund was finally set up to address this. But is it enough? Or is this just greenwashing and rose-tinted glasses?
What is the Loss & Damage Fund? The idea is incredibly simple. Developed nations that are overwhelmingly responsible for historical and current emissions will pay into a fund on a regular basis. When vulnerable and developing nations suffer from climate change, such as crop failures, lack of water and infrastructure damage, the fund will send them money to resolve this situation. While this is an ad-hoc approach to the climate crisis, it is a small yet significant set in making climate change more equitable.
The idea of the Loss & Damage Fund has floated about for years, but the international community has failed to reach an agreement on it multiple times. There was always a contention on how much developed nations would pay into the fund, who would qualify for funding, where the fund would be located, and how it would be administered. These issues might seem trivial, but each one affects the balance of influence over the fund. In other words, if these points weren’t sorted out properly, the fund would be wide open for abuse and manipulation.
This is where COP28 comes in.
COP28 started on the 30th of November. It is a seminal climate summit, as we only have a few years left to implement global legislation to phase out fossil fuels, limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and mitigate the worst of its impacts. If we wait any longer, we will lock in a catastrophic level of climate change that we simply cannot undo. What’s more, developing nations are already starting to suffer severely from climate change. Africa’s GDP is already slipping from climate stress; climate change-induced heatwaves are killing thousands, and rising sea levels are already threatening low-lying areas, among many other damages. If we wait any longer to implement legislation to help these countries and communities, they will struggle to recover from the damage and may not be able to for decades.
But hopes that COP28 can actually bring these vital bits of legislation to life have been low, to say the least. You see, COP28 is hosted in Dubai and chaired by the chair of one of the world’s largest oil companies. In other words, it is in his interest to sabotage or scupper fossil fuel phase-out and climate change equity legislation. In fact, just before the start of COP28, the BBC found through leaked briefing documents that the Dubai hosts planned on discussing and striking fossil fuel deals with 15 nations in COP28 talks! It looked like COP28 was going to be a farce.
Despite all this, COP28 kicked off with a monumental milestone on its first day by settling the Loss & Damages Fund.
Nearly all the world’s nations agreed to finalise the fund’s creation. In fact, some countries have already pledged to put money into it. The UK, the USA, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and other EU countries agreed to put a total of $400 million in.
As I have covered in a previous article, they agreed to host the fund temporarily at the World Bank, which, despite its name, is very biased towards the US. As such, many developing nations are worried this fund will be used to strong-arm them into a pro-US stance in order to receive funds. This decision has numerous other controversies, which you can read about here. But despite these issues, COP28 were able to get this legislation passed.
The COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, hailed this as “historic” and added that it “sends a positive signal of momentum to the world and to our work here in Dubai.” But is he right? Have worries about Dubai’s ability to push climate legislation forward been laid to rest?
Well, let’s look at this fund a little closer.
The actual legislation itself “urges” developed countries to provide financial resources to the fund, while other nations are only “encouraged” to do so “on a voluntary basis.” In other words, if developed nations want to stop paying into this fund, they could effortlessly. What’s more, the fund needs far more money than it currently has pledged. In fact, it requires so much capital that it is designed to receive contributions “from a wide variety of sources,” including grants and cheap loans from the public and private sectors and “innovative sources.” These aspects of the fund were pushed by developed nations, as it means they won’t be the sole source of money for the funds, lightening their burden.
In other words, all COP28 has done is create the framework of this fund. No part of the Loss and Damage Fund guarantees it is paid into. So, while this framework is essential, and it is impressive that it has been created and agreed on, that doesn’t mean any change will come from it.
Furthermore, the amount of money this fund will need to actually make a meaningful difference is utterly vast. One widely cited study estimates that by 2030, developing countries will likely face $290–580bn in annual climate change damages. So, the already pledged funds from these few developed nations are barely a drop in the ocean for even a single year of climate damage to developed nations.
For the Loss & Damage Fund to actually make a difference, it would need a record-breaking level of funding each and every year for decades. Yet, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that it gets even a fraction of this.
So, is the Loss & Damage Fund greenwashing? Has COP28’s “brilliant start” shown that it can’t create meaningful climate policy? I can’t say just yet. If developed nations take this fund seriously and pay far more into it, then it will be a brilliant bit of climate legislation. If not, it will just be a virtue-signalling falsehood pushed by developed nations to make it appear as if they care. Similarly, if Dubai can push other, more watertight and binding climate legislation during COP28, then this will have been a brilliant start, as it shows their ability to create meaningful change. However, if they allow backdoors and loopholes to appear, like the fact that developed nations don’t have to pay into this fund, then it will be evident that they have greenwashed our last-chance saloon to save the planet from the very start.
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