‘Loss and damage’ on the agenda as Caribbean leaders attend COP27

18th November 2022

Despite limited progress since COP26, Caribbean leaders gathered with over 100 of their counterparts in Egypt for the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP27).

The conference, being staged from 6 to 18 November 2022, is expected to depart from previous COP meetings which primarily focused on reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change, and financing for adaption for future impacts.

Many are hoping for progress on the contentious issue of ‘loss and damage,’ which calls for wealthy countries to pay for costs already being incurred from the ravages of climate change including extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

However, countries remain divided as to what should count as ‘loss and damage’. Some are pushing for a narrower interpretation which limits it to infrastructural and property damage, while other countries are calling for the inclusion of more difficult to quantify elements such as natural ecosystems and cultural assets.

“Wealthier countries bear a moral responsibility” to help poorer nations recover, adapt and build resilience to disasters, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his remarks at the conference.

With similar platitudes figuring so heavily in COP26, many were anticipating the interventions by the leaders of small developing states and any new commitments by their more developed counterparts.

Among those who spoke at the conference were Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Bahamas Prime Ministers Gaston Browne, Mia Mottley and Philip Davis, as well as Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi.  

“We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution. Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution? That is fundamentally unfair,” said Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

She called for a re-think of the current international funding models to allow vulnerable nations to remain habitable. “We need to have a different approach, to allow grant-funded reconstruction grants going forward, in those countries that suffer from disaster. Unless that happens, we are going to see an increase in climate refugees. We know that by 2050, the world’s 21mn climate refugees today will become 1bn,” warned Mottley.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) negotiating bloc, current Chairman Prime Minister Gaston Browne called for highly polluting emerging economies including China and India to pay into a climate compensation fund to help countries rebuild after climate change-driven disasters.

“We all know that the People’s Republic of China, India – they’re major polluters, and the polluter must pay… I don’t think that there’s any free pass for any country and I don’t say this with any acrimony,” said Browne to the surprise of some climate analysts who noted that this was the first time AOSIS had included the two in the list of nations expected to provide compensation for climate change.

“The oil and gas industry continues to earn almost US$3bn daily in profits… It is about time that these companies are made to pay a global carbon tax on their profits as a source of funding for loss and damage,” said Browne, taking aim at the global oil giants.

“I’m not here to ask any of you to love the people of my country with the same passion as I do,” said Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis, whose country was hit by Hurricane Nicole while he was attending COP27.

“I’m asking what is it worth to you to have millions of climate refugees to turn into tens of millions, putting pressure on political and economic systems around the world,” questioned Davis, while calling on countries to “get real” on climate action as “the alternative consigns us to a watery grave”.

Noting that his nation is one of only three countries with CO2-negative emissions, Suriname President and current CARICOM Chairman, Chandrikapersad Santokhi argued that the bloc’s development is being stymied by the need to borrow to address climate change and repair damage.

Meanwhile, Caribbean countries held fruitful discussion on the margins of COP27. Guyana, Barbados and Rwanda used the opportunity to sign an agreement which could see pharmaceutical companies in Guyana and Barbados be set up to manufacture drugs for distribution to Caribbean, Latin American and African countries.

The Government of Guyana signed a Forest Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the European Union which will see Guyana receiving a €5mn (US$5.1mn) grant for sustainable forest management and preservation, given its estimated US$40bn to US$54bn annual carbon offset.

On Monday 14 November, Reuters reported on the draft UN text setting out what the COP27 climate summit could agree on ‘loss and damage’ financing for countries. Since then, the draft has been debated and amended as representatives of nearly 200 countries seek to find consensus.

With many of them demanding that COP27 produce a firm decision on the launch of a loss and damage fund, the success of the conference hangs in the balance, arguably along with the future of the planet.

Photo by Matthew TenBruggencate

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.