Holding the Global North Accountable

In the aftermath of the twenty-seventh United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, which ended with a breakthrough deal to establish a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries, activists in Nigeria are already discussing concrete steps to put pressure on the Global North to prevent the deal from becoming mostly symbolic. The deal was cobbled together in the last hours of the conference following two weeks of grueling negotiations among parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt this November.

What’s known as “loss and damage”—reparations for destructive impacts of climate change suffered by developing countries—has been a longstanding demand of the G77 and China (an influential negotiating bloc in the UNFCCC negotiations). The victory, hailed as a big win for countries suffering the adverse effects of climate change, came after thirty years of campaigning and organizing on a global scale. 

But the deal is far from perfect. For one, it comes without a strong commitment to end fossil fuel burning. Rather, there was a reaffirmation of the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, something which represents no progress over COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.  

In late November, a week after COP 27, an event tagged “COP 27 Debrief” was held in the bustling and dangerously polluted city of Lagos, Nigeria under the auspices of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa — a group that works to advance human rights, challenge corporate abuse of natural resources and build community power. 

“COP had become more like a carbon trade fair.” —Nnimmo Bassey

The mood at the meeting was somber and stern, not the frenzy of celebration perhaps expected on the occasion of such an historic deal. Although participants acknowledged the significance of the loss and damage victory, the reigning sentiment was skepticism towards the commitment of the Global North to implement the deal. For Nnimmo Bassey, director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-thank, who spoke with The Progressive via Zoom, the annual COP has become “a jamboree” where parties’ interests appear to be more about how to profit off a very bad situation rather than taking collective action to save the world from climate catastrophe. 

“COP had become more like a carbon trade fair where you see people discussing selling of carbon credit and all kinds of non-solutions, which we call false solutions,” Bassey says. 

While there is hopeful news for the future following the historic UN biodiversity agreement in December that will “ensure and enable” that 30 percent of Earth’s land and sea can will conserved by 2030, much damage has already been done. Tuna migration habits in the Pacific Ocean, for example, are changing due to the heating of the ocean with a potential $140 million loss in average government revenue per year for the small island states whose food supplies and economies depend on tuna fishing. 

In the Lake Chad region, where temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees since the 1960s, extreme weather events, from flooding to droughts, are affecting the livelihoods of forty million people. This has led to the disruption of fishing, agricultural and livestock yields, as well as the displacement of communities, and conflict over arable land. Climate change has resulted in the economies of the V20—a coalition of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries—losing an estimated $525 billion in the past twenty years.

In her remarks at the debrief meeting, Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer who was on the ground at COP27, Egypt as an observer, expressed doubt about the deal. “Until the [fund] becomes operationalized, and funds begin to flow in and out of it, campaigners must retain some skepticism towards the issue. This is because whereas the consideration of L&D [loss and damage] is now decided, it is not clear yet who will pay into the account or whether the new fund will be domiciled within the UNFCCC or outside.”

“It will take deployment of rights-based litigation to win fulfillment of international climate pledges.”

These are not unfounded suspicions. Skepticism of COP27’s deal stems from past experiences. Previous pledges by rich nations have not been fully met. In 2015, at COP15 in Copenhagen, participants agreed to channel $100 billion per year to poor nations for climate adaptation and  mitigation. Unfortunately, key issues regarding the operationality of the fund were left to 2023 even as the loss and damage text avoided mentioning ‘‘liability and compensation,’’ apparently in order to accommodate historic emitters like the United States, who are wary of any agreement written in the language of reparation. 

“It will take deployment of rights-based litigation to win fulfillment of international climate pledges,” says attorney Chima Williams via Zoom. Williams is the executive director of Environmental Rights Action, a Nigerian advocacy group dedicated to the defense of the human ecosystem. 

Climate litigations are already gaining ground and could become a crucial advocacy tool for climate campaigners in the Global South. A prominent case by four Nigerian farmers has resulted in a Dutch court ordering Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Nigerian unit to compensate for oil spills in two villages more than thirteen years ago. 

Apart from litigation, the debrief meeting in Lagos also covered how to make the next COP a space for communities instead of a space for corporations, how to connect with communities and advocates across the Global South in joint campaigns, and the need to engage African leaders to ensure climate reparations are not looted. 

Williams urges campaigners and activists to identify climate-impacted communities across Africa and Small Island states, and work together with affected groups to demand international climate pledges are fulfilled. He believes this kind of approach can help to put a spotlight on loss and damage financing ahead of COP28 in Dubai next year by mobilizing campaigners and communities across the Global South in a class action for reparation and climate justice. 

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