By Cecilia Timberg 

“We are at the table gathering resources to help countries that need it with mitigation and adaptation,” said Ali Zaidi, White House Climate Advisor, responding to a question about whether the United States is going to support financing for loss and damage at COP27, the annual UN climate conference. 

Dozens of hands shot up in the audience, but Zaidi was ushered off stage before fielding a single question. 

World leaders are gathered now for COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to negotiate intergovernmental climate change policy.

For the first time, loss and damage “fundings arrangements” are included on the formal agenda. This is a defeat for the United States and the European Union, who have been objecting to the inclusion of loss and damage funding in the agenda for years. 

What is “Loss and Damage” funding? How does it differ from the Adaptation and Mitigation funds Zaidi spoke of?

“Loss and Damage” refers to the cost already being incurred as a result of climate related catastrophes, like extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, and sea-level rise. “Damage” is the physical destruction resulting from these catastrophes, while “Loss” is the financial toll that is taken. 

The goal of loss and damage funds is to call richer countries, who have been emitting destructive levels of greenhouse gasses, to financially assist poorer countries in responding to the resulting climate catastrophes. 

The inclusion of this funding to the COP27 is a triumph for nations presently experiencing the destructive effects of climate change. For years, the Global North and developed countries have been setting up funds for mitigation and adaptation efforts, while ignoring the Global South and developing countries, for whom mitigation efforts are far from the priority, as they face immediate climate-related catastrophes. 

“Mitigation” funds provide money for countries to establish infrastructure and early warning systems to protect from the future effects of climate change. In a Mitigation Work Program negotiation on Monday, the discussions focused on making money available for the transition to renewable energy, establishing workshops to educate citizens on future impacts of climate change, and keeping the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target outlined in the Paris Agreement, alive. Countries least impacted by climate change are most eager to establish mitigation funds.

The focus of the mitigation fund on pioneer technologies makes it very accessible for countries with advanced infrastructure to access those funds. 

“If the money became available now, the Scandinavian countries would be able to access it now because they have the technology to mobilize it,” said Richard Abubakar Umar, a climate activist and educator from Nigeria. 

Unlike mitigation funding, the Adaptation Fund is set aside for developing nations who are experiencing climate change-related events, but still have time to reorganize their society to minimize the future damage. The money is intended to reduce the negative impacts of climate change already being felt and increase resilience through concrete adaptation projects and programmes. 

Many nations have remarked that the Adaptation Fund, although a step in the right direction, is hard to access at the speed that is needed for countries responding to climate-related disasters. 

“We are literally feeling climate change now, and need to be able to access those funds,” said the Paulo representative in a Adaptation Funds negotiation on Monday. 

Ideally, a loss and damage funding program would provide the easily accessible financial support for developing countries reeling from climate related catastrophes that is missing in both the Adaptation Fund and mitigation programmes. 

By the end of day 3 of COP27, many European nations had pledged funds to loss and damage.

“The Global South still feel that they’re having to come and plead with the rich countries to acknowledge, let alone address, the issue of loss and damage,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s prime minister said at a New York Times event last week. 

“There is a real need to make tangible progress,” she said, shortly after pledging 5.7 million dollars to loss and damage funding. 

Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, and Germany have made their own promises to provide financial support to developing countries for loss and damage. 

The United States is notably absent from this list. 

“I support governments paying money for loss and damage and adaptation, but let’s be very clear that that’s a matter of billions or tens of billions,” Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, said.

“It’s a well-known fact that the United States and many other countries will not establish … some sort of legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability,” John F. Kerry, US’s first ever climate envoy said on Saturday. “That’s just not happening.”

Biden touched down in Egypt briefly on Friday to deliver a generic 15-minute address. He included a single remark with vague illusions to loss and damage being included on the agenda. He promised nothing.

“Biden came but it was like he’d never come at all,” said Umar. 

Despite the pledges being made by developed countries, there has not yet been an establishment of a facility to receive, organize, and distribute these funds. 

Many believe that COP27 has failed to live up to its nickname: “Implementation COP”. With four days of the conference remaining, the nations met today to underline the urgency of leaving COP27 with a funding facility.

“As we come close to a finishing line, the concern is endemic that if we don’t see a facility to prepare the loss and damages of 80% of the world right now, it is going to be the rest of the world that is going to suffer eventually,” said the representative for Pakistan, “We will see vulnerability as our destiny.”

Umar emphasized that, because climate change is not contained within national borders, we are no longer in an era of government, but instead of multilevel governance. If countries only meet once a year, they must make the most of the two weeks. 

“Once this COP is over, we have to wait a whole other year to allocate these funds, but the damage is now,” said Umar. 

In the coming days, nations will meet frequently to workshop a funding facility that would address the demands of all of the participating nations. The clock is ticking to estalish a comprehensive and cohesive fundings program. To come out of the COP empty handed would be devastating for many nations who need the funding as soon as it is made available. 

“Whether COP27 will be successful is whether we make progress on loss and damage,” said the representative of Bangladesh today, speaking for all the Least Developed Nations.