A devastating year of heat waves, droughts, lost crops and extreme floods made it impossible to ignore climate-related damages to lives and livelihoods. The latest round of discussions (COP27 in Egypt) began with little hope and ended (two days beyond schedule) with a faint glimmer. All 197 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to enable financing for loss and damage to those that need it the most. But the goal of keeping temperature rise to levels that could minimise loss and damage continued to slip away.
Loss and damage (L&D) refers to the adverse impacts that vulnerable communities and countries face as a result of a changing climate. Rich countries had resisted L&D payments for years. Under pressure, they could no longer duck their responsibility.
The COP27 decision includes the development of a Transition Committee dedicated to L&D, with equal representation from rich and poor countries. In order to operationalise the funding arrangements, the committee has been tasked with configuring institutional arrangements, identifying and expanding sources of funding, and coordinating with existing funding arrangements — by COP28 in the UAE next year. The sticking points of negotiations, thus, remain.
India can speak — and act — on behalf of the Global South to ensure that the new L&D financing facility delivers. First, develop a Global Vulnerability Index. Last year, CEEW developed a Climate Vulnerability Index for India. It found that over 80 per cent of Indians are highly vulnerable to extreme climatic disasters. Such data in the public domain helps map critical vulnerabilities and plan strategies to build resilience by climate-proofing communities, economies and infrastructure. Currently, such indices do not exist in the public domain across countries.
Pressure must also be put on large emerging economies, with rising emissions, to contribute to L&D financing. Limiting L&D compensation depends on increasing adaptation spending. India must continue to press for higher volumes of international adaptation funds.
Second, encourage attribution science to assess whether and to what extent climate change altered the likelihood and intensity of extreme climatic events. Unfortunately, as with the majority of global research on climate change, contributions from the Global South are limited. A recent study found that only 3.8 per cent of global climate research spending is dedicated to Africa — of that 78 per cent is spent in Europe and North America. India would do well to convene experts and encourage the development of a South-led research consortium dedicated to scientific exploration of “event attribution” science. This would enrich climate science, draw attention to the more vulnerable regions, build research capacity in developing countries, and strengthen the L&D framework.
Third, champion the Early Warning Systems Initiative. The Executive Action Plan for the Early Warnings for All Initiative, unveiled at COP27 and welcomed by India’s Minister Bhupender Yadav, aims to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years. It has called for targeted investments of $ 3.1 billion during 2023-27, which could avoid annual losses of $3-16 billion against natural hazards in developing countries. Given India’s vulnerabilities to extreme climate events — CEEW research finds that 75 per cent of India’s districts are prone to extreme climatic disasters — we would do well to champion not just the deployment of early warning systems, but showcasing the investments and capacities required to maximise protection and benefits. The rollout of such systems with last mile connectivity in Odisha has already borne fruit: Reports suggest less than 100 lives were lost to cyclone Fani in 2019 in India, as compared to about 10,000 in 1999’s super cyclone.
Fourth, leverage the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). India founded the CDRI “to promote the resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems to climate and disaster risks in support of sustainable development”. CDRI is currently undertaking a Fiscal Risk Assessment study to support the development of a comprehensive disaster-risk financing strategy in more than 35 countries and multilateral entities. Last year it kick-started an initiative called Infrastructure for Resilient Island States. As it assumes the G20 presidency, India can also push for a Global Resilience Reserve Fund, capitalised by IMF Special Drawing Rights, to create an insurance cushion against severe physical and macroeconomic shocks that climate risks would impose.
L&D financing is only one side of the coin. Enhanced and accelerated emissions mitigation is still much needed. This is in India’s development interests. While it released its long-term low-carbon emissions development strategy last week, it must use scientific methods to quantify its long-term targets, to give direction to industry and investors.
At the COP, India’s push for phase down of all fossil fuels (not just coal) failed to get traction. Negotiators continued to quibble over definitions of climate finance when trillions of dollars of sustainable investment are needed. When it comes to technology, sectoral partnerships and technology co-development are likely to be the way forward, rather than wating for technologies that never get transferred.
L&D financing (if at all delivered) is a band-aid. Global emissions must reduce by 50 per cent by 2030 but there is no opprobrium for failing to present credible plans to do so. India drew attention to sustainable lifestyles via its Lifestyle for Environment mission, but who is listening? Future COPs must focus almost exclusively on ensuring delivery and holding laggards accountable. Otherwise, the COP process will be lost and multilateralism will be permanently damaged.
Ghosh is CEO and Bhasin is Senior Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water