COP27 — The “Loss and Damage” Camel’s Nose is Very Fuzzy

Published November 29, 2022

The loss and damage camel’s nose is so fuzzy at this point there may not even be a camel. Nothing has been agreed to except that a Transitional Committee will consider what might be agreed to.

But it could be great fun to watch. The developing countries fighting over nothing. China refusing to pay. Be still my heart. Okay do not be still.

The original deal was finally kept at the end, which is no surprise, endless loud green voices to the contrary notwithstanding. Liability for climate damage was not mentioned in the final agreement and any decision on a specific fund was put off until later (if ever).

Of course the press still talks about reparations and compensation but those loaded liability terms will never appear in the official UN descriptions. This is the studied vagueness of diplomacy. Recipients can call it compensation while donors call it foreign aid.

The press also insists on saying the “details” still have to be worked out. The reality is that the essential features are all still in limbo, with possibly devastating fights looming. Here is a quick look at some likely controversies.

On the donor side the biggest issue is whether China should pay. This has been brewing for some time and is now ready to serve. After all, China is the second biggest economy and the biggest emitter by far, burning an incredible four billion tons of coal a year. Actually that makes sense since they are the world’s industrial base. But it bothers the climate alarmists no end.

China’s consistent response is that we are not renegotiating the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which holds China to be a developing country. Others argue that is exactly what we should be doing, with the evergreen Washington Post taking a lead here. WashPo says China is now 34 times richer than in 1992, with four times the emissions.

In fact for some time now the UN dialogs have used the telling term “developing countries, excluding China” to refer to the said-to-be developing world. (I like to think that America is still developing.) So China is already de facto not a developing country is some cases.

This tangle quickly gets much thornier because China is not the only developing country to do well since 1992. The list is actually pretty long, perhaps led by Saudi Arabia and Singapore. Such a list may well emerge as the fund talks proceed.

On the recipient side it is if anything more complex. The “loss and damage” agreement merely says the “particularly vulnerable countries” get the money, where this means vulnerable to supposed damage from human caused climate change.

The looming problem is that there are at least three very different possible criteria for particularly vulnerable and these differences give the money to different countries. This could well be the biggest fight of all, even crippling. And each criterion was well represented in the force that pushed this agreement through the gate.

First there are the “least developed states” which is UN speak for really poor countries. These countries have the least means for dealing with major damages, so in that sense they are clearly particularly vulnerable.

Then there are the low lying island countries. They claim to be in danger of being wiped out by sea level rise. Extermination is as vulnerable as it gets, right?

But then there are the countries with the biggest losses. References to Pakistan’s 40+ billion dollar flood made it the battle flag for the successful “loss and damage” charge.

Here we come full circle because China may hold the record for flood damages, especially for loss of life. Their 1931 flood is estimated to have caused two million deaths, with 150,000 directly from drowning and the rest indirectly such as from the resulting famine.

Clearly it is far from clear which countries are particularly vulnerable, under the doctrine of human caused damages.

In summary, both who pays and who gets are potentially highly controversial within the developing world. That the Transitional Committee will come to agreement on any of these fuzzy issues seems unlikely and that is not necessarily their charter. More likely they will articulate the issue and drop them into the lap of COP28 next year.

But first the Committee has to be formed and even that may not be easy. Of the 24 member countries, 14 will be developing countries and which countries these are may make a big difference, given the different sorts of vulnerability. The member specifications are mostly geographic, except two are from small islands and two from least developed states.

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Then at COP28 the fun will really begin because every one of the 200+ countries attending has a veto. This debate could go on forever. In the meantime there is no actual “loss and damage” fund.

Stay tuned to CFACT as this potentially hilarious (and endless) global drama unfolds, starting with forming the Transitional Committee.