Photo: Idyllic Pacific Islands threatened by rising sea levels. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne - Photo: 2022

COP 27: The World’s Rich Urged to Pay Reparations for Climate Damage

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SINGAPORE (IDN) — At COP 27 in the Egyptian resort town of  Sharm El Sheikh, the Global South led by Asia and the South Pacific (as well as Africa) are demanding that nature rights and climatic justice be recognized as a human right and COP (Conference of Parties) process go beyond pledges for climatic change mitigation.

And this by agreeing to look into a binding agreement for financial reparations from the rich for the damage done by climatic change, as evidenced in 2021 by floods, cyclones and heat waves hitting the most economically vulnerable countries.

“The world cannot afford destabilisation on three fronts (political, economic and environmental)” argues Aisha Khan, head of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change from Pakistan.

Writing in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, she noted that coming on the heels of an uneven recovery from the continuing pandemic, the rising cost of food and energy, the acceleration in the loss of biodiversity and the deepening debt crisis for many countries, “voices of anger and disappointment will define the mood and shape the contours of the two-week talks”.

Khan argues that the results must go beyond the demands for funding the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with an appropriate resource for the achievement of climate and development goals. There needs to be an agreement “on new ways of collaboration at the UNFCCC to enhance the delivery of emissions reduction, scale up climate finance, support adaptation and address loss and damage”.

It is the latter, the question of reparations that could make or break COP 27.

“What angers me the most is the betrayal of leaders (of the developed world) that have failed to take responsibility for benefiting from the destruction of the planet, ” 25-year-old Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a young environmental activist from the Philippines, told Japan’s Nikkei Asia. Growing up on the outskirts of Manila, she has experienced regular damage to the community from typhoons and flooding and the destruction of the community infrastructure.

It is voices like Tan’s that should be heard at COP 27. It is not enough for the richer countries to pledge that they will cut greenhouse gas emissions. There should be an agreement—or at least a process towards it—that the rich offer reparations to poorer countries for the historical damage they have caused; this is what the Global South is demanding.

The composition of the Hong Kong delegation to COP 27 reflects the changing human rights agenda of the Global South. Hong Kong is sending its biggest delegation to Sharm El-Sheikh, led by young environmentalist campaigners. According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), veteran environmental advocate Chong Chan-yau, 65, who has led Hongkongers to the UN’s annual meetings since 2007, has stepped aside for the youth to take the battle to COP 27.

The delegation is led by 23-year-old environmental activist Blair Ho Tsz-ching, a  program officer at NGO CarbonCare InnoLab.  Founded in 2014, it is known not only for its focus on climate change but also for actively engaging youth and nurturing young environmental activists.  

Chong told SCMP that he is “so thrilled and feels a great satisfaction” to see young Hongkongers stepping forward to foster global citizenship and environmental awareness. “I didn’t impose the baton on the young people, but they took the initiative.” The young activists say that young people are coming forward to fight for the environment because they are the ones that are going to be affected in the future.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu’s special envoy on climate change, Bakoa Kaltongga, has told Nikkei Asia that devastating cyclones, rising seas and the acidification of the ocean and other extreme climate events should be viewed as “human rights issues”.

“We have not even reached 1.5 degrees (Celsius in temperature rises), and yet there have been severe climate change challenges,” Kaltongga said in a video interview, referencing to the amount of warming from preindustrial levels that scientists warn is crucial to avoid. “We should measure this sort of thing in terms of the human lives that are affected,” he added.

In 2020, Cyclone Harold hit the nation of about 80 small islands situated in the South Pacific Ocean, caused the destruction of schools and other buildings, ruined crops and caused over $600 million in damage—which is 60 per cent of the small nation’s GDP (gross domestic product). Vanuatu contributes only 0.0016% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are the cause of these environmental terror.

Vanuatu is leading an international campaign on this issue, taking it to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—to issue a so-called advisory opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from climate change. Though it will be nonbinding, an opinion from the ICJ, which is one of the principal organs of the United Nations, would have moral authority and legal weight that could shape international law.

“Given the lack of ambition and the lack of responsiveness” on climate change, there is a need to take the matter “to the highest court,” Kaltongga told Nikkei Asia “Ours is a litany of sufferance … we have a right to live in this world.”

“When your homeland is surrounded by the ocean, you have a keen interest in protecting its ability to support life. It is well documented that climate change poses an existential threat to island nations not only from rising sea levels but also from ocean heat and acidity, which threaten vital fisheries,” argues Luky Adrianto, professor in fisheries resources management at IPB University in Indonesia.

“Many of these nations may be small fry, but the fact is fish and other seafood products provide vital nutrients for more than three billion people and supply an income for 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population,” added Prof Adrianto, in a commentary published by Jakarta Post. He is also a policy analyst in fisheries and ocean management and a lead expert on the Blue Economy Development Index hosted by UN Development Programme (UNDP).

As the world’s largest archipelago, with 17,500 islands, Indonesia’s waters support around 4,000 species of fish. It produces 7 million tonnes of seafood each year, with exports earning the country around $ 5 billion. Thus, Prof Adrianto argues the challenge at COP27 is to ensure small fisheries have a place in solutions to ensure fishing sustainability for generations to come.

Meanwhile, on November 6, The Hindu newspaper of India reported that Anti-Coca-Cola protestors staged a protest in front of the company’s defunct plant at Plachimada in Kerala state, demanding that the United Nations Secretary-General withdraw Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the COP 27 event.

Coca-Cola stopped its operations at Plachimada following a series of agitations but refused to pay any compensation as recommended by a high-level committee headed by former Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar. During investigation, the panel had found that the company caused extensive damage to people and their land at Plachimada. It also recommended a compensation of Rs. 216.26 crores ($54 million).

Compensation for past environmental damage is at the very core of the Global South’s campaign for ‘nature rights’. “Coca-Cola has cheated the people of Plachimada by denying compensation to them,” Plachimada Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee chairman Vilayodi Venugopal told The Hindu, reflecting global environmental campaigners’ misgivings about getting the rich to pay reparations for environmental damage from climatic change. [IDN-InDepthNews — 07 November 2022]

Photo: Idyllic Pacific Islands threatened by rising sea levels. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

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