The 27th Conference of Parties (COP-27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, held in November 2022, concluded with the establishment of the much-awaited Loss and Damage Fund. The most vulnerable, developing countries, including countries of the Indo-Pacific, have been demanding finance from the industrialised countries (that have ‘historical responsibility’ for climate change) for the losses and damages suffered by the former. Hence, this outcome is regarded as a historic victory for them, and more generally, for climate justice.
Even South Asian nations that have traditionally not had a common position on climate change (despite common interests) in the climate change negotiations, spoke in one voice about the urgency of setting up a loss and damage financing facility at COP-27. Climate change-related extreme weather events have become the new normal in South Asia. In 2022 alone, the region witnessed a deadly heatwave (mainly in India and Pakistan) and catastrophic floods (the worst being in Pakistan).
The future does not look promising either as studies reveal that such phenomena are expected to get worse in the coming decades, as also indicated by the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is against this background that the solidarity shown by developing, vulnerable countries of South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region at COP-27 was unprecedented.
South Asia at COP-27
The South Asian nations’ positions on the loss and damage issue were strengthened by the scale of disasters that the region faced in 2022. The devastating 2022 Pakistan floods, which affected almost 33 million people and caused damage amounting to USD 15 billion, in particular, led to the country’s leadership taking charge of the loss and damage negotiations as a part of the G-77 & China. As large parts of Pakistan continue to remain underwater, with many people still living in relief camps and many having lost their shelter and livelihoods, the country is in dire need of international assistance for recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.
Loss and damage has been one of the thorniest issues in global climate governance because of its association with liability and compensation, which industrialised countries have long resisted in the negotiations. Although the first call for addressing climate-induced loss and damage was raised by Vanuatu in 1991 and the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) was established in 2013 more than two decades later, it took almost a decade since then to establish a Loss and Damage Fund.
The road to establishing this fund at COP-27 was also arduous as industrialised countries continued to use various tactics to dilute the CBDR-RC (Common but Differentiated Responsibilities & Respective Capabilities) principle of the UNFCCC by demanding countries such as India and China to contribute to the fund; and at times, by attempting to restrict the number of countries that could access the fund. They also launched an insurance-based mechanism – ‘Global Shield’ – to support the most vulnerable countries, which was seen by developing countries and non-governmental organisations as a mere “distraction” from their obligation to establish the loss and damage fund.
The agreement is a significant win for the Global South, including for South Asia that unitedly fought for the inclusion of loss and damage as a COP-27 agenda item and thereafter, the establishment of the fund itself. Moreover, this move is being seen as a victory of climate justice in general. The fact that despite having per capita emissions well below the global average, South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are among the top ten most affected countries underscores a form of climate injustice that needs to be addressed in global climate governance.
All South Asian nations and developing, vulnerable countries of the Indo-Pacific region collectively demanded support for both ex-ante (early warning, resilience-building, etc.) and ex-post (relief, recovery, etc.) measures to deal with climate-induced loss and damage. They also stressed upon the need for new, additional, adequate, and predictable funding, in the form of grants rather than loans or other financial mechanisms that could push developing countries into deeper debt.
The Battle is far from Over
On loss and damage, the battle is far from over. Several questions with respect to who would contribute to the fund, how much, and who would be the beneficiaries, remain unresolved. Which countries would constitute “particularly vulnerable” within the purview of the fund remains unclear and therefore, the probability of the emergence of contentions over it remain high. Until the fund is operationalized, and its decision-making and technical procedures are determined, the Global South would have to continue to keep fighting for their rightful share of finances to deal with climate-induced loss and damage.
Having learnt lessons from the past on climate finance-related pledges made by the industrialised countries that have time and again been broken, the Global South cannot afford to dilute the solidarity that it showcased at COP-27. It is in the interest of countries of the Global South, including countries of the Indo-Pacific that are considered highly vulnerable to climate change, to keep aside their geopolitical and other differences, to push the industrialised ones to deliver on their commitments and pay up their fair share of climate finance. This is crucial for the upcoming COP-28 in Dubai, wherein the decisions of COP-27 will be further concretized.
Countries of South Asia (and the Indo-Pacific region) have put in place several national plans and strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but progress on cooperation through regional organisations has been slow, the causes of which primarily lay in the complex geopolitics of the region. To deal with a challenge that is not confined by political boundaries, and which is characterised by shared and similar challenges and interests, it becomes imperative for South Asia and even countries of the broader Indo-Pacific region to strengthen regional collaboration on disaster risk reduction, climate-resilient reconstruction, and building overall socio-ecological and economic resilience. The region is in dire need of financial and technical resources and capacities to cope with climate change-related impacts.
Presenting a united front through a regional common position, not only on loss and damage, but also other pillars of climate action (mitigation and adaptation), would help amplify the region’s concerns in global forums and thus the region’s needs could be better met. The issue of loss and damage presents an opportunity for countries of the Indo-Pacific to collaborate in many ways, including sharing technical knowledge on vulnerabilities and assessing the requirements in terms of resources.
It remains to be seen whether climate change could indeed emerge as a catalyst for cooperation in South Asia that brings the region’s countries together, not only to forge an efficient and inclusive regional partnership, but also to transition towards a sustainable future.