COP28 starts on high note with creation of loss and damage fund

Published December 1, 2023
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (C) presides the opening ceremony of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 30, 2023. — AFP
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (C) presides the opening ceremony of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 30, 2023. — AFP

DUBAI / ISLAMABAD: The 28th UN climate summit opened with good news for poor nations struggling to cope with natural disasters, as delegates adopted a new fund to help the developing world bear the cost of climate-driven damages.

The 28th UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) commenced in Dubai’s Expo City on Thursday with 52,000 party delegates and 90,000 non-party delegates joining this year’s proceedings.

While many observers were already expecting this decision, delegates applauded it with a standing ovation.

The fund, which has remained a key demand of developing nations, has been under discussion for nearly 30 years, but calls for its immediate establishment gained momentum during the previous COP summit in Egypt. The unprecedented Pakistan floods of 2022 and the coincidental chairman-ship of G77 group had allowed developing nations to lobby extensively for the fund.

Over $400m secured in pledges; PM Kakar calls for swift operationalisation of climate finances

In establishing the fund on the first day of the two-week COP28 conference, delegates opened the door for governments to announce contributions.

And several did, kicking off a series of small pledges that countries hoped would build throughout the conference to a substantial sum, including $100 million from host UAE, at least $51 million from Britain, $17.5 million from the United States, and $10 million from Japan.

Later, the European Union pledged $245.39 million, which included $100 million pledged by Germany.

The early breakthrough on the damage fund, which poorer nations had demanded for years, could help grease the wheels for other compromises to be made during the two-week summit.

UN chief Antonio Guterres hailed the decision, calling the measure an “essential tool”.

He greeted the move to “operationalise the new loss and damage fund, an essential tool for delivering climate justice to the most vulnerable people,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

But some groups were cautious about celebrating the fund’s early adoption, noting there were still unresolved issues including how the fund would be financed in the future.

Swift operationalisation

Governments are preparing for marathon negotiations on whether to agree, for the first time, to phase out the world’s use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas, the main source of warming emissions.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar also joined the chorus calling for the immediate operationalisation of the newly-approved fund, and called for its utilisation “on merit” to help states in need.

PM Kakar will lead the Pakistani delegation in the high-level segment starting today and would also attend the World Climate Action Summit on Dec 1 and 2.

“If we wait for a UN framework it will take years [and] years. Therefore, initially it is possible to operationalise it under the World Bank and other multilateral entities,” a PM Office statement quoted him as telling CNN.

He said the utilisation of the fund should not be linked with development funds and loans from multilateral financial entities, rather the loss and damage funding should be in addition to these.

Currently, he said, Pakistan’s focus was on transformation from coal-based power plants to renewable energy projects.

“This is the area which could attract interest of countries here in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the settled economies and democracies on the Western side, so it is an opportunity for all of them and all of us,” he added.

The prime minister pointed out that Pakistan was not primarily responsible for contributing to the climate disaster in which the country’s two provinces Sindh and Balochistan faced historical devastation.

“Everyone knows who [has] been contributing in last one century so it is more of a question of an honest conversation rather than passing judgment on countries and economies,” he remarked. Therefore, he said, the responsibility shown by the wealthy nations themselves would be a welcome step.

UAE presidency in the limelight

This year will also see a close focus on the UAE presidency’s of the COP and scrutiny of its ability to navigate complex deliberations and deliver a major win.

COP President Dr Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber opened the summit by urging countries and fossil fuel companies to work together to meet global climate goals.

At the first plenary, he asserted: “This presidency is committed to un­­locking finance, so that Global South does not have to choose between development and climate action.”

Dr Jaber, who is highly influential in the UAE and holds multiple top roles, including being the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), has been at the centre of controversy with climate activists questioning his appointment as COP president.

He seemed to indirectly address the criticism by recognising “there are strong views on language about fossil fuel,” nonetheless the UAE presidency is guided by the “North star of 1.5 degrees” — the targeted limit of global warming currently aimed by the UNFCCC.

“Right here, today in the United Arab Emirates, I call on you to act, to unite, and to deliver,” he said, ending his speech.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2023

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