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U.N. Climate Summit Agrees to Historic Loss and Damage Fund But Rejects Calls to Phase Out Fossil Fuels

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Image Credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Rich countries agreed to establish a “loss and damage” fund at the close of the two-week-long U.N. climate summit in Egypt to help the Global South deal with the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. The fund is a major breakthrough for Global South countries, which have been demanding a similar mechanism for the past 30 years but faced opposition from the United States and other large polluting nations. Climate justice activist Asad Rehman says the fund is a “glimmer of hope” despite the summit ending with a massive expansion of carbon markets and delegates making “no progress” to phase out fossil fuels.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re broadcasting from Cairo, Egypt. We just flew in from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, over the weekend, where the two-week-long U.N. climate summit ended Sunday.

In a major breakthrough, rich countries agreed to establish a loss and damage fund to help the Global South deal with the worst effects of the climate catastrophe, but delegates at COP27 failed to agree on any steps to phase out fossil fuels. Nations in the Global South and climate justice activists have been demanding a loss and damage fund for the past 30 years, but the United States and other large polluting nations had long opposed the proposal. This is U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking Sunday.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now. And this is an issue this COP did not address. A fund for loss and damage is essential, but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map or turns an entire African country to desert.

The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. The red line we must not cross is the line that takes our planet over the 1.5-degree temperature limit. To have any hope of keeping to 1.5, we need to massively invest in renewables and end our addiction to fossil fuels.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now from Sharm el-Sheikh by Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want and the lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.

Asad, welcome back to Democracy Now! We spoke to you last Monday as the COP27 negotiations were underway. Now they have ended. Can you talk about what has come of this? What do you think of the final COP27 proposal?

ASAD REHMAN: Hi, Amy, and always a pleasure to join you.

Well, as António Guterres said in your piece there, on the critical questions of “Are we reducing harm? Are we keeping temperatures well below 1.5 degrees?” there was no progress. We didn’t see any mention of the equitable phaseout of fossil fuels. In fact, we simply saw a repeat of what was agreed in Glasgow, which was about unabated coal.

And, of course, many rich countries came to these climate negotiations having expanded their own fossil fuels. The United States, the U.K., the European Union are all planning massive expansions of oil and gas, and even, incredibly, of coal, so flying very much in the face of science. And the science has already told us that we have to basically halve our emissions by 2030 to be able to be at zero by 2050. We have got less than five to 10 years of the current carbon budget if we want to limit temperatures below 1.5. And shockingly, that the latest synthesis report said we’ve only reduced our emissions in terms of the NDCs, the plans that governments have got in place, by 0.3%. So, we are so far off in terms of actually reducing the harm that governments committed to, and, of course, are resulting in the devastating consequences we are seeing around the world.

And to make matters worse, we also saw Sharm el-Sheikh agree a massive expansion of carbon markets, which basically are about offsets, which are a license for rich countries and corporations to pollute, if somewhere else somebody else takes some action. We simply don’t have the carbon budget for that. The decision has no safeguards. There’s no review, and there’s no transparency. It’s a recipe for disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about the loss and damage fund, about any kind of — whether it is voluntary or not. And what exactly was the role of the United States, the last holdout?

ASAD REHMAN: So, this was the — on the flipside, you know, if we say you have to reduce harm, you have to repair the harm that’s already been done, and then you have to compensate people for the harm that can no longer be repaired. And we can see that, of course, with the reality facing many, many countries who are not just facing a climate catastrophe, are facing debt, still recovering from the COVID pandemic and the historical and huge issue of tackling inequality and poverty, and are simply being overwhelmed, as we saw in Pakistan, in Nigeria, across the Horn of Africa and in the Caribbean.

Now, the rich countries, led by the United States but backed also by the European Union and the U.K., have long dragged their feet on the issue of loss and damage. It’s been 30 years in the making, as you mentioned in your opening. But at the 11th hour, they were finally dragged kicking and screaming over the line to agree the establishment of the fund. But, of course, this is the first step. No money was agreed, and we’ve still got to agree the process and setting of the fund. But it is a major step, breakthrough.

But, as a lifeline, it gives a glimmer of hope, but a deflated life belt is still a deflated life belt. What really matters now is: Will rich countries meet their responsibility, put financing to the scale that is needed, and will developing countries be able to access that, to recognize that the vulnerabilities that we’re seeing are now global and, of course, are compounded for many, many developing countries by the structural inequalities that they face?

AMY GOODMAN: And, Asad, if you can talk more about the fact that the wording was changed on fossil fuels from “phasing out” to “phasing down,” and what practically that means in the world?

ASAD REHMAN: So, from civil society organizations and, of course, the demand from communities on the frontline has been we need an equitable phaseout. Look, fossil fuels are the core of greenhouse gas emissions. So, the key thing is: What is our plan to end our addiction to fossil fuels, and how can it be done in a just way, that those countries who’ve got the capacity and the resources and are responsible for the majority of emissions in the world take the first step?

Now, rich countries have long blocked that idea of an equitable phaseout of fossil fuels. What they’ve wanted to concentrate on is coal, because, largely, developed countries have moved away from coal. And, of course, they’re expanding. I mean, it’s shocking that President Biden, for example, has authorized more permits for expansion of fossil fuels than even Donald Trump did. And, of course, we would widely recognize that President Trump was a climate denialist. So, what we’re seeing is not that kind — not the language that we need in terms of actually a phaseout.

Now, what we’ve seen also, of course, because of the pressure of the hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists and many countries who are relying on fossil fuels for their own economic development, they began to water down their language around fossil fuels. They want to caveat that by talking about clean fossil fuels, somehow that we can remove the carbon around them. They’re positioning gas as if it’s a clean energy resource, rather than actually going full pelt on the renewable energy that we know will both be cleaner, will be fairer, will tackle energy poverty, and, of course, is also cheaper.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final 30-second summary of where we are after 27 years of COP?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, look, on the critical issue about finance, I mean, it’s hugely concerning. In 2020, rich countries promised, you know, 100 billion a year. That’s still not being met. We again had just expressions of concern. But there is a positive step that we are going to be in conversations about a new finance goal in 2024.

But I would say there has been some major breakthroughs: the fact that now the financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank are being talked about in the text as being not fit for purpose, that we have now a program on just transition which includes social protection, which recognizes that the — is what the IPCC talked about, that we need a compact on climate and poverty if we’re going to actually have a just transition.

But the most important lesson I take away from Sharm el-Sheikh is that the combined pressure of global civil society, both in Sharm el-Sheikh and in cities around the world and in capitals around the world, combined with strong leadership of the G77, we can move things forward, we can have victory. So, now the fight continues. And we have to build more and more power, because when we do, we can face down these fossil fuel-backed governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of War on Want and lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.

Let’s end this segment with some of the climate activists who were calling for loss and damage, a fund, at COP27. This is Ron Pedros with the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, which organized the protest this past week.

RON PEDROS: Food for people!

PROTESTERS: Not for profit!

RON PEDROS: Food for people!

PROTESTERS: Not for profit!

RON PEDROS: It’s the Food Land Water Action Day organized by the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development. According to the World Food Programme, currently we have almost a billion people who are hungry. The number of people who have no access to affordable food has grown from 135 million to now 345 million in the last couple of years. As governments gathered here today, dragged their foot — their feet, rather, for decisive, ambitious and realistic climate actions, people are dying every second. We call on a number of speakers to tell their stories directly to this COP. We call on Wanun to speak for Thailand.

WANUN PERMPIBU: I am also bringing the voices of the people who I have been working with, and those are women’s groups and also farmers and fisherfolk. You know about climate impacts, the unpredictable rainfalls, long duration of droughts, and also flash flooding. And those farmers not producing or causing any CO2 emissions, but they are bearing all the costs of climate impacts. …

All the solutions that here in this COP and the previous COP has been offering is really a false solutions. Let me name a few: smart climate agriculture, smart farming, smart farmers, large agricultural lands. And those are supposed to be helping the communities and farmers on the ground to survive and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. But those false solutions are really, really putting more and accelerating the impacts of climate change onto the local communities and farmers and women.

RON PEDROS: We call on our speaker from Africa, from Friends of the Earth Africa, Kwami.

KWAMI KPONDZO: What’s happening in Africa, actually, people are dying because there is no more food. Small-scale farmers are being pushed away. Contracts have been signed to take land from people, from small-scale farmers. People are dying of hunger. People are dying from floods and droughts. It’s not fair.

IVONNE CATALINA YÁNEZ LÓPEZ: Thank you very much. I am here from Ecuador. As it was said, in Ecuador, we have several problems with water because of at least two reasons. First of all, climate change, which is shrinking the glaciers in the mountains, but also we have mining companies affecting the water in the páramos, which is like a sponge that absorbs water, and this brings water for agriculture and for the peoples in the city.

Twenty years ago, we started here, together with other organizations, asking that the only solution is to start to leave fossil fuels in the ground. And at that moment, everybody was thinking, “Oh, these women, all of these people are crazy.” But now everybody is talking that is an important issue, to start to leave fossil fuels in the ground in order to address climate change.

But also, together with the Filipino peoples, with the Asian movement for debt, we have been claiming that it’s not a question of finance, climate change. It’s a question to repair. It’s a question to give — to pay the ecological and climate debt that have the industrialized countries with the Southern countries like Ecuador.

PRAYASH ADHIKARI: I belong to a country of nature. I belong to Nepal, where most of the people’s basic work is agriculture. As our comrade said, agriculture for food, not for profit. In Nepal, due to climate change, due to climate crisis, several catastrophes have been faced by the local community. Last year, community has to face loss of whole rice, ready-to-harvest rice, which forced them to take a loan to continue their livelihood for a year, to educate their children. This is what people are facing. This is what communities are facing on the ground. … You all note that — all the leaders, as well — if agriculture goes wrong, everything in this world will go wrong. You cannot survive only drinking oil.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want that? Now! What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want that? Now!

AMY GOODMAN: To see more of our coverage from COP27, the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, go to democracynow.org.

Coming up, we go to Colorado Springs, where a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub, killing five people, injuring 25 Saturday night. The shooting occurred on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Stay with us.

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