Egypt’s Cop27 climate champion: ‘loss and damage is being ignored’

Mahmoud Mohieldin, Egypt's climate champion, during an interview in Cairo, September 12, 2022. (Credit: Keystone/Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Speaking in Geneva on 18 October ahead of Cop27 next month, Egypt's climate change champion said priorities for this year's climate summit include putting thorny issues that have long been ignored – like loss and damage compensation for climate-hit nations – front of the agenda.

Egypt’s UN climate change champion has rebuked nations for taking a “reductionist approach” to climate change, telling international delegates in Geneva that critical issues such as how to compensate vulnerable nations for losses suffered due to climate catastrophes have been largely ignored until now.

Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin’s comments, during an event held on 18 October at the Permanent Mission of Egypt ahead of Cop27 next month, highlighted some of the key priorities for the host country at the climate summit – including putting the “loss and damage” issue, as well as increasing adaptation finance, front and centre of the agenda.

“We suffered from a misleading reductionist approach to the climate agenda by focusing on a couple of items that we favour and missing the rest off the agenda,” the economist and IMF executive director, who is also the UN’s special envoy on financing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, said.

“Loss and damage is being lost in endless discussions,” Mohieldin added, noting that efforts to include a proposal for a loss and damage financing facility in the Glasgow climate pact came with many caveats that ultimately saw the proposal left out from the draft.

Paying the price for growth

Pressure has been growing from poorer, developing countries to be compensated for economic losses caused by worsening floods, droughts, heatwaves, and other climate change events predominantly driven by the emissions of a wealthy minority of industrialised nations.

Catastrophic flooding has already caused at least 1,500 deaths in Pakistan in recent weeks, while record heatwaves have struck much of the globe this year.

The issue of paying for loss and damages, however, is politically controversial, with developed countries wary of committing to any sort of compensation fund due to the liabilities that they would face.

Though an agreement at this year’s climate summit, taking place from 6 to 18 November, is unlikely, Ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, Egypt’s special representative for Cop27, told reporters on 28 September that negotiators were “inching closer” on central issues, such as having an official agenda item for loss and damage.

Mohieldin echoed his comments, noting that ensuring increased finance for adaption measures, which has been historically underfunded compared with mitigation, will also be prioritised at the forum. He also stressed that it should not be confused with the loss and damage issue.

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Egypt’s UN climate change champion, Mahmoud Mohieddin, speaking at the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the UN in Geneva, 18 October. (Credit: KJefford)

“Representatives from small island states know very well that loss and damage is not adaptation and we cannot mix those two together.”

Less contentious than forcing wealthy countries to compensate poorer ones for damages, adaptation finance is more focused on supporting developing nations to ​​better anticipate future disasters and prepare for them through projects such as early-warning systems or better infrastructure against flooding.

The Glasgow climate accords urged developed countries “to at least double” their 2019 levels of climate adaptation finance for developing countries by 2025, which would mean committing a collective $40bn.

However, there are doubts that this sum can be met in time, let alone the $100bn a year that rich countries pledged to put toward financing climate adaptation and clean energy in poorer countries in the decade to 2020.

Cop27 will be crucial in benchmarking where countries are in meeting those climate finance adaptation targets since the last summit in Glasgow, with Germany and Canada due to release a progress report by the end of October.

At a press conference on 3 October ahead of a pre-Cop event in Kinshasa, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said the world “needs clarity from developed countries on where they are this year on the delivery on their $100bn dollars a year promise” to support climate action in developing countries.

However, even if the $100bn is delivered, Mohieddin noted that will only cover a fraction total cost of investment needed to meet climate goals, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates may amount to $4 trillion per year between 2020 and 2030.

“That’s the role of governments, public finance and the private sector, philanthropies as well, to see how to apply this better,” he added.

A just climate transition

Mohieldin also highlighted concerns about the economic turmoil, as well as the food and energy crisis triggered by events such as the war in Ukraine, further derailing efforts to meet climate targets.

“With this kind of backdrop, together with the many problems that have been with us even before the Covid crisis like debt accumulation, we have to be mindful of how a climate action approach should be designed in a way to support people at large to address the problems of today, as it should be addressing the problems of tomorrow,” Mohieldin.

This means ensuring a just climate transition that takes people’s livelihoods and their rights into consideration, he added. “If we are designing policies to deal with climate action that are not putting into consideration the impact on important matters like poverty, that will not really help us… because there will be setbacks and resistance…and result in more social tensions,” he said.