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Geopolitics and ’hypocrisy wars’ could boost pledges at UN Climate summit 

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International leaders are under pressure to make ambitious pledges to the proposed loss and damage fund ahead of the COP28 climate summit, write Caroline Chebet and Tim Concannon.

This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund Europe.

Caroline Chebet is Environment Correspondent for the Standard in Kenya, Tim Concannon is Climate Research Editor for Africa Confidential in London.

Under growing scrutiny over claims of double standards on fossil fuels, the president of the UN COP 28 Climate Summit, Dr Sultan al Jaber, is set to announce a substantial founding contribution – “at least $10 billion”, according to sources close to the organisers of the Summit in the United Arab Emirates – to the proposed Loss and Damage Fund.

The aim of the fund is to compensate countries in the global south hardest hit by carbon emissions from industrial economies. 

The scope of the pledge, a mixture of grants and loans disbursed over the next decade, would eclipse contributions from rich western economies to the new Loss and Damage Fund which is meant to be launched at the UN COP Summit opening on 30 November.  

It could be a turning point after a year of heated negotiations exposing geopolitical divisions over who should benefit from the fund, who should pay into it and where it should be located. Both the United States and the European Union want a fund that doesn’t put sole responsibility on rich polluting countries to contribute to it as compensation to developing countries hardest hit by climate change.  

At the final meeting of a UN Transitional Committee in Abu Dhabi this month, it was agreed that the Fund would be initially located in the World Bank which would have fiduciary responsibility for it. Decisions on the Fund’s projects and programmes would be made by a separate board giving extra representation to countries from the global south who had criticised the Bank’s record on climate finance. 

Further “significant contributions” to the Loss and Damage fund could come from the UAE’s “regional allies”, suggested another source, which is understood to mean oil-producing states in the Middle East. One participant in the negotiations around the fund said it was part of a bidding war for influence over climate policy. 

Two of the region’s biggest oil producers – the UAE and Saudi Arabia –  are accused in investigative reports this week of covertly stepping up fossil fuel production while espousing the centrality of the global transition to renewable energy.  

One report documented how Saudi Arabia’s Oil Sustainability Programme is planning to artificially stimulate demand in key markets, including deploying a fleet of power station ships along Africa’s coast using heavy fuel oil and selling cheap petrol and diesel cars to African and Asian countries.  

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa in Nairobi responded on social media: “A surge in fossil fuel use would harm Africa … we are already on the frontline of the climate crisis and suffering its impacts …If the Saudis try to push dirty energy on us, it shows they are no friends of Africa. The need for a fossil fuel phase out date at COP28 is clear>” 

On 27 November, the Centre for Climate Reporting said that briefing notes used by Dr Sultan al Jaber, who is also chief executive of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and chair of the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar, showed that his country planned to use its role as the host of the UN Climate Talks as forum to negotiate oil and gas deals in at least eight countries. This would breach UN rules stipulating that the summit hosts should act without bias or self-interest. 

Those reports taken up by international media organisations cut across the tens of millions of dollars that the UAE has invested in public relations around its stated commitment to renewable energy and “phasing down” the use of fossil fuels.. 

The UAE’s pledge to the Loss and Damage Fund was formulated several weeks before the reports on its use of the UN Climate Summit to pursue commercial negotiations on new fossil fuel projects.  

And it fits with a pattern of massive investment in renewable energy to counter critics of its parallel promotion of fossil fuels.  

UAE officials have told journalists the country has invested around $200 billion in renewable energy projects around the world in the past year. And at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi in September officials from the UAE’s Masdar pledged to mobilise over $10 billion in renewable projects in Africa between now and 2030. 

“The UAE is one of the biggest investors in renewables in Africa and Saudi Arabia is gearing up to become quite present in the continent in different ways,” says Dr Carlos Lopes who chairs the African Climate Foundation and is a visiting professor at the Mandela School of Governance in Cape Town. 

“So the African leaders are looking at these two as becoming investors in their energy transitions,” added Lopes.  “…it’s a paradox that the news cycle is focusing more on what petro states can do or not do on climate … somehow these can be hypocritical because we have had COPS in rich countries where polluters have not faced the same sort of scrutiny.” 

Details of the UAE’s planned contribution to the Loss and Damage fund emerged after a meeting between Al Jaber and the European Union’s Climate Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra on 13 November when the two men “emphasised the importance of operationalising the Loss and Damage funding arrangements at COP 28 including early pledges.” 

Hoekstra said he is also ready to announce “ a substantial financial contribution by the EU and its member states to the Loss and Damage Fund at the COP 28” . But the EU contribution would be “in the context of an ambitious outcome at the COP28 across mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation” in a way that leaves no one behind.  

Expectations are lower about the United States’ contribution to the Fund. US President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said on 10 November that Washington would contribute several million dollars but without giving a clear timeline.    

Throughout the negotiations on setting up the Fund, US and EU officials have rejected the inclusion of any hint of liability for climate damage in the organisation’s charter. Addressing the US Congress in July, Kerry said that Washington would “under no circumstances” pay climate reparations via the loss and damage process.                               

The principles of the Loss and Damage also topped the agenda at pre-COP Summit meeting in Nairobi last month organised by the Africa Group of Negotiators Experts Support (AGNES) which includes scientists and negotiators has been holding engagements and consultations to consolidate and tighten the continental common position. 

Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, who chairs the Africa Group of Negotiators chairperson, said the guiding principle in the summit’e negotiations would be the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capacities (CBDR-RC). 

“We will be pushing for an agenda which takes into consideration and safeguards our interests and unique circumstances as a continent that contributes just about four percent to global emissions and yet suffers the most.”  

Africa’s negotiating team also warned about rifts within the continent’s 54 states about eligibility to resources from the Loss and Damage Fund. The increase in extreme weather events in Africa in recent years has added to the urgency around an agreement over the Fund at COP28. 

“As negotiators, we are trying to see how the L&D Fund can be institutionalised so that under such extreme events, affected communities can be paid to bounce back,” said Dr George Wamukoya, Team Lead for AGNES. 

Dr Wamukoya said that some proposals for stringent regulations on eligibility being pushed by western countries by developed countries would lock out countries such as Kenya and Ghana. 

“This would mean that people in middle-income countries who suffer losses and damages as a result of climate change would not be able to access the Fund,” said Wamukoya. 

“This divides Africa into two – the least-developed economies which will be receiving international support and middle-income economies which will be relying on humanitarian support when faced with similar crises because they cannot qualify for the same support.” 

Lack of agreement on the cost of the finance – interest-bearing loans or grants offered by the Loss and Damage Fund – could complicate negotiations at the COP28 according to Professor Raymond Kaseiat the University of Development Studies in Ghana. 

“Developed countries are trying to undermine and water down the recommendations while reducing the scope of the L&D Fund arrangements,” he said. 

Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change, says Kosei, with extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and changing precipitation patterns causing significant losses and damage but the sector wasn’t discussed by the UN Transitional Committee. 

The Fund, he says, should help vulnerable countries and communities respond to climate change when the limits of adaptation process are surpassed by extreme and slow onset events such as droughts. 

Like many of the African advisors on the negotiations, Kosei was sceptical about the World Bank’s role in the Fund, given the worsening debt crisis in the region and the domination of its board by western countries. 

As debates on the launch of the Loss and Damage Fund continue, people directly affected by climate change in countries such as Kenya want their voices to be amplified at COP28. 

In Lake Nakuru in Kenya’s Rift Valley, over 325 families are awaiting the results of the deliberations over the Loss and Damage Fund in the absence of help from their national government. 

“We were displaced by floods in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years down the line, we are still climate refugees and have not rebuilt our lives. There is no form of financial support from the government so far,” says Lucy Muthoni, a community activist. 

“If we suffer from damages and losses that we did not cause, why can’t we access the support? If the government cannot support us, then who will?”  

 

 

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