In the title and subhead of her COP27 wrap-up article for The New Republic, Kate Aronoff accurately conveys the magnitude of what happened in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt at the latest round of UN climate negotiations: “How the U.S. Abruptly Shifted Decades of Climate Policy: In just 72 hours, the United States reversed course on its long-standing opposition to establishing a fund for loss and damage.”
As you may have seen by now, at COP27 the United States and other wealthy countries finally agreed to the creation of a “Loss and Damage” fund to support developing countries rebuilding and recovering from the impacts of a climate crisis they had little role in creating. As recently as last Wednesday, I was sitting in a room listening to John Kerry tell us that there was no chance the U.S. would support such a fund. The fact that we won a victory that involved forcing the U.S. to move off of one of its key red lines is worth celebrating.
An enormous amount of work went into making this happen. We should first start by acknowledging the admirable job that G77 developing country negotiators did at COP27. Too often, the G77 – a group of 130+ developing countries that frankly have little in common – are susceptible to divide-and-conquer strategies. The poorest and more vulnerable countries and country groups are consistently targeted by wealthy countries offering backroom deals that split them off from the larger bloc. This time, the G77 stood united and firm behind one single proposal for a Loss & Damage fund. This solidarity was absolutely key to winning the victory they eventually got.
Aside from G77 unity, the amazing work of civil society campaigners in shaping the media narrative for COP27 was also crucial. The Biden administration tried to take a victory lap at COP27, touting the Inflation Reduction Act and a slew of initiatives outside the UN process as their credentials as a “climate leader.” But no one was buying that story. The U.S. was consistently painted as obstructionist due to their refusal to budge from their red lines on the L&D fund and the pressure that frustrated the White House to the point of forcing their hand by the last few days of the negotiations.
The fact that nearly 150 U.S. organizations urged the Biden administration to stop blocking a fund, and 13 members of Congress later did the same, only added to that pressure. Over 20,000 people also signed a petition with the same demand. All of this together added up to a COP27 outcome that our colleagues in the Global South are rightfully celebrating as an unprecedented victory, even despite the lack of progress on other key aspects of the climate negotiations, most notably fossil fuel phaseout.
The L&D victory, of course, is one that opens up a number of new struggles – not a final victory by any means. The decision from COP27 creates a Transitional Committee that will meet at least three times in 2023 to figure out what the fund will look like – how it will be governed, how it will allocate and disburse funds, and so on. These meetings will be absolutely key to determine whether or not the new fund is actually responsive to the needs of frontline communities being hit by climate impacts.
We will be following those Transitional Committee meetings as well as continuing work to educate our movement and members of Congress about Loss & Damage and the imperative of supporting frontline communities in the Global South. A luta continua!