Loss is hard to measure. This is probably the hardest part about the climate conversation on who owes what to whom — and how much.
How do you place a value on something special? A wild berry that no longer grows in the forest? A glacier that has vanished? The receding beach in front of your grandparents’ old house?
It feels impossible to work out, right? However what isn’t so difficult to see, is the reality that the most acute impacts of climate change are often felt by those who are least responsible for the problem.
The world’s most vulnerable countries (and China — a slightly different fish in the proverbial pool of climate uncertainty), say they are already dealing with irreversible losses because rich, industrialised countries have heated the Earth’s atmosphere and let loose climate hazards that destroy their homes, their economies, their heritage.
They want money to compensate them. And rightly so.
On the other side of the aisle, industrialised countries — led by the United States and the European Union — say they want to help. However they are wary of setting up something that could potentially hold them liable. “It’s not politically realistic,” they say.
This question will be at the heart of a showdown at COP27, the United Nations-led climate conference starting Sunday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.
“Loss and damage have been the always-postponed issue,” Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said on Thursday. “There is no more time to postpone it. We must recognise loss and damage and we must create an institutional framework to deal with it.”
The science has become faster and sharper in showing the reach of man-made climate change. Studies showed that recent events — from Pakistan’s incessant rains which flooded a third of the country in August and caused an estimated $30 billion in economic losses, to Madagascar and Mozambique which were hit by a series of exceptionally strong storms — were far more likely because of extra heat in the atmosphere.
Money has been promised in the past to contriubute, but those promises haven’t been kept — rich nations haven’t yet delivered on the $100 billion a year that they had promised by 2020. So questions are now being asked if a separate fund is the best way to address irreparable losses and damages. Guterres proposed that Big Oil’s windfall profits be taxed and go into a loss and damage fund.
To date, it’s had zero takers — quelle surprise.