Who Pays for Loss and Damage?  Who Pays for the Climate Transition as a Whole?

There’s a lot going on these days, and it’s easy to miss the important reports. You should definitely not miss The Loss and Damage Finance Landscape, which was just published by the Loss and Damage Collaboration (LDC) and the US office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. 

The report is pretty comprehensive, but my question is a narrow one – how much money is the Loss & Damage fund going to need, and where is it going to come from? The authors – several of whom, I confess, I know quite well – begin by attacking the first of these questions in an entirely straightforward manner . . .

“Major climate and weather events in developing countries in 2022 caused more than US$109 billion in losses. This does not take into account smaller events which may have been devastating for a local community, slow onset impacts, nor non-economic loss and damage. Therefore, it can be said that the real loss and damage faced by developing countries in 2022 was considerably greater than US$109 billion. Updating widely used modelling of loss and damage in developing countries to 2023 US dollars, gives midpoint estimates of economic loss and damage of US$425 billion in 2020 and US$671 billion in 2030. It is therefore clear that discussion of loss and damage finance should use US$400 billion per year as a floor and acknowledge that financing needs will have to be revised upward over time.”

This is fine opening move, though loss & damage isn’t the only thing we have to worry about.  There’s also mitigation, and adaptation, and the need for a comprehensive global just transition, and the challenge of financing a reasonably fair fossil fuel phaseout. Which is to say that even though the costs of the climate transition cannot be fully reckoned in dollar terms, dollars are going to be needed, and quite a lot of them.  Further, this is now so obvious that even mainstream realists don’t deny it, not if they intend to be taken seriously. Witness this recent and very public comment by the new UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell . . .

“We know the scale of what’s needed is significant. Global models from the most authoritative institutions all converge in the range of trillions annually. According to the work of the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance, developing countries need nearly 6 trillion dollars to implement their climate action plans by 2030, and that’s with significant gaps in costing adaptation needs.”

You would not have heard this from the UNFCCC Executive Secretary ten years ago, or even five.  But this, it seems, is a new day!  So who knows?  Maybe other truths – now no longer plausibly deniable – will also come to be publicly noted.  We may soon have high-level diplomats telling us that all the costs implied by a sufficiently rapid climate transition can’t actually  be counted as “investments” – which are generally expected to be profitable. Or that loss & damage costs can’t realistically be packaged as loans that highly vulnerable developing countries can reasonably be expected to “pay back”. 

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Wealth tax of 0.5% could cover UK’s fair share of loss and damage fund

The UK’s Christian Aid — a long time supporter of the fair shares approach — just released a very nicely pointed report arguing that the UK could easily cover its share of the global loss & damage need with a minuscule wealth tax.

What they’ve done is taken a plausible estimate of the loss & damage need (insofar as it can even be expressed in money terms) and multiplied it by the UK’s fair share, as estimated by the existing version of the fair shares calculator, using moderately progressive equity settings. 

The Guardian article — see here— summarizes the bottom line:

“Estimates of [potential loss & damage costs] differ, but the range of $290bn-$580bn a year by 2030 is often cited, with a midpoint of about $400bn, taking into account inflation and rising climate impacts. Christian Aid estimates the UK’s “fair share” of this to be about 3.5%, or $15bn.”

This is a lowball figure that doesn’t consider adaptation and mitigation, but this was deliberate.  They didn’t want to get “laughed out of court in a first meeting”.

The report is also interesting for the very wide net it casts, in terms of possible sources of loss & damage finance. Here, quickly, are the top three:

Wealth tax – One option would be to implement a national Net Wealth Tax in line with the parameters set out by the Wealth Tax Commission. A rate of 0.5% levied on wealth in excess of £1m is estimated to raise in the region of £15bn. This has the advantage of being targeted on those who are likely to be disproportionately high polluters in their consumption and personal investments.

Polluter producers’ tax – Another option would see fossil fuel companies generating the UK’s contribution to the Fund. The UK Government could increase the tax on excess profits from fossil fuel production to 95%, which according to Tax Justice UK could raise around £13bn.  Fossil fuel companies are enjoying record profits.

A third option could be combining smaller targeted taxes, such as the existing International Air Passenger Levy (£3.5bn), and revenues from two of the following three options: a) the Emissions Trading Scheme (£6bn); b) an expanded Financial Transactions Tax (£6.5bn) or c) the existing Energy Profits Levy (around £5bn annually). Together these would bring in revenue which could pay the £12.57bn/ $15bn fair share contribution to the Loss and Damage Fund.”

One last thing – this rather alarming chart, which Christian Aid took from the 2023 Climate Inequality Report

What you have here, briefly, is the planetary human population, divided into three slices. The poorest half, on the left, is exposed to 75% of the relative income losses projected to come with climate change, while having only 2% of the global wealth. The richest 10%, on the right, have a much sweeter deal — they enjoy 76% of the wealth, and are exposed to only 3% of the losses.

Go to the the 2023 Climate Inequality Report itself if you need the details here. It’s figure 29.

The Planet Will Warm Past 1.5°C. What Now?

The only way of ensuring that the overshoot is temporary is to decisively defeat the fossil fuel cartel.

This essay was originally published by The Nation, here

The 1.5°C temperature target is difficult to honestly and openly discuss. Within the climate movement, it has become a locus of anguish, confusion, and even despair. Long a symbol of mobilization and hope, 1.5°C has become central to both activist campaigns and scientific analysis. Yet it’s now clear that the planet will almost certainly warm more than 1.5°C.

This is a rough prospect. It will likely condemn countless communities, many of them largely innocent of responsibility for the climate crisis, to suffering and destruction on a vast scale. It will trigger major ecological crises, extinctions first among them—the coral reefs, to pick just one example, could almost entirely vanish as the warming breaches the 1.5°C line.

These are not encouraging words, but they should not be taken as invitations to despair, or to a strange denialism in which, fearing hopelessness, we soft-pedal the severity of our circumstances. Because the truth is that the planet is not doomed, and neither are the world’s most climate vulnerable people.

The message here is that it’s time to act. Fortunately, significant action seems finally to be possible. At the last climate summit, after a grand push from the Global South coalition (the G77 + China) and the climate movement, the long-deadlocked battle to establish a “loss and damage” fund was finally won. That fund could finance disaster prevention and disaster mitigation in regions that have been pushed beyond their adaptive capacities. There will, of course, be limits to such interventions, but this could be the beginning of real climate internationalism. And it would not be alone. To cite just one other justification for cautious optimism, the renewable technology revolution has finally arrived.

Still, implacably, year by year, the “emissions budgets” are being drawn down, and the IPCC’s new “Synthesis Report” has made this undeniable. We’re going to hit 1.5°C. Thus, if 1.5°C is still achievable, it is only by way of an “overshoot and decline” pathway in which the temperature, in time, drops back below 1.5°C. As Peter Thorne, a physical geographer at Maynooth University in Ireland, noted at the report’s launch, “Almost irrespective of our emissions choices in the near term, we will probably reach 1.5 degrees early in the next decade.… The real question is whether we reach 1.5 degrees and then maybe go a little bit over and come back down or whether we go blasting through one and a half degrees and two degrees and keep on going.”

The challenge now is to limit the depth and duration of the 1.5°C overshoot and thus the destruction that occurs during and after it. This means, among much else, rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, a tremendously challenging prospect that will disrupt economies and political alliances around the world. Such a phaseout can succeed only if it unfolds in a manner that is widely accepted as fair.

Continue reading “The Planet Will Warm Past 1.5°C. What Now?”

Why you should read The Deluge

The first thing I want to say about The Deluge, Stephen Markley’s doorstop of a novel on the climate emergency, is that the prestige reviews it has thus far garnered, at least in the US – I’m thinking in particular of the Times, the Post, and the LA Times – are all a bit irritated by it, and all of them in irritating ways. Especially the LA Times, which actually complains that The Deluge “drowns us in catastrophes”. Don’t get me wrong – there are good criticisms to make here — but somehow these reviews avoid, or miss, or downplay, the point that should be highlighted, which is that you should absolutely read The Deluge. In fact, should put it at the top of your stack. This book is an event like few others, and you don’t want to miss it.

I’ll not go into the details. This isn’t my job and in any case I don’t want to drop any spoilers. Which seems to be a part of the problem that seriously reviewing The Deluge poses. How, for example, do you talk about the ending? Unlike Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future, which was always going to conclude with an uptick – Stan’s point is to show that we are not doomed, that we could absolutely make a different future – The Deluge is more an extrapolation of the current storyline, the one we’re trapped in, and let’s just say that this extrapolation ends on a razor’s edge.

Many things here are just absolutely fucking great. One of them, a big one, is its take on the climate movement. We talk, some of us, about “the movement ecosystem” – how the frontline activists work in implicit if sometimes hostile coalition with the legislative activists, how the technologists are essential, but prone to exaggerate their own importance, how the climate movement, as it become the climate justice movement, is passing through some challenging cultural water, how eco-desperation can decay into eco-terrorism – but rarely, if ever, has there been a fiction that more intelligently centers these cross currents, even as it shows the resulting mélange being tossed about in rising waves of seemingly unstoppable fossil-fueled fascism.

Also, the writing can be sublime.

What criticisms would I highlight? Well, the description of Kate Morris, the charismatic activist at the center of the tale, can in extreme moments collapse, or almost collapse, into caricature. On the other hand, I have to add that I would really like to have been on her staff, back before everything went to shit. Also, if you’re sick unto death by the suggestion that the US will have to lead the world out of these dark precincts, you’re probably not going to love the pathway forward, which includes an embattled US Administration managing, despite all, to nonetheless lead negotiations that actually achieve a viable international climate accord. Which, given the strength of the winds blowing against it, isn’t really all that bad.

Here’s a quick summary, as that deal emerges out of some very delicate talks in the tumultuous year 2037:

“The framework was not a new idea. Each country would bring its per capita carbon emissions into alignment so the carbon budget of developing countries could rise minimally while developed nations would have to drastically reduce theirs. The CSDF [ Climate Stabilization and Development Fund] would pay for zero-carbon infrastructure in the Global South, while debt forgiveness would be tied to each participant’s decarbonization and biodiversity preservation. Free riders would be dealt with, first with limited sanctions and then with economic boycotts. If the major economies could stick to this, it would flush the carbon out of the world’s economy to limit warming to 2.5 degrees.”

Do note that terrifying number. Because, by the time we get to this point (page 814) in the tale, the Paris temperature goal is fading history. And note too that even holding this desperate line — 2.5C is not where we would choose to turn the tide — involves winning an endlessly deepening and dispiriting battle against insane new forms of sociopathic Christian authoritarianism. It also involves a culture dominated by virtual reality, an AI-assisted surveillance state, identity politics, heroic but cantankerous scientists, very clever bombs, cap and dividend, a democratic revolution in China, the methane emergency, solar radiation management, and the widespread acceptance, won at very high cost at the very last moment, that there is no way forward save the realization that we really are in this together.

The Deluge is long. But it’s written by a real novelist – this is not climate fiction as usual. And it is imbued with a realist sensibility, tinged with hope, that I for one found to be quite congenial. It deserves way more attention than it has thus far received.

How to fund Loss & Damage

As you probably know, the big win at the last climate jamboree (COP27 in Egypt) was the establishment of the Loss & Damage facility. And a big win it was! The question, now, is how we’re going to provision that facility, how we’re going to fund the fund.

The principle of this website is transitional justice — how to provide the resources needed to actually achieve the climate transition. In the next year, we’ll have a lot to say about this, and about Loss & Damage finance in particular, but today, as I dig out my email, I just want to quote a particularly pithy summary of the road forward, one written by the inestimable Lidy Nacpil, together with Thuli Makama, both of whom hail from the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development. It’s called Rich nations can afford to pay their fair share to fix global crises and here’s their summary of the menu, as it stood just after the COP.

The first [option] is making fossil fuel companies pay. While many households were pushed into poverty this year, oil and gas companies made record profits and governments continued to subsidise them. Ending fossil fuel subsidies would raise at least $600 billion a year, and a 10% tax hike on oil and gas production about $400 billion in 2022. Along these lines, the EU and UK among others have introduced windfall taxes on oil and gas profits, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and small island governments are calling for part of these to be levied toward the loss and damage fund.

There is also momentum to shift a particularly influential form of fossil subsidy – international public finance – towards renewable energy instead. At COP26, 39 countries and institutions promised to end their $28 billion a year in international finance for fossil fuels by the end of 2022. While Germany, Canada, the U.S. and Italy have yet to meet this pending deadline, a growing group of countries has.

Second, a small tax on extreme wealth would raise $2.5 trillion a year, and related proposals to crack down on tax dodging would significantly bolster this. Because the world’s richest 1% have caused 23% of greenhouse gas emissions growth since 1990, these measures are also needed to reach climate targets. In a push that mirrored the loss and damage win, last week African countries secured a key step towards these reforms by passing a resolution for the U.N. to hold its own intergovernmental talks on tax rules rather than them remaining the sole domain of the OECD.

Calls to cancel Global South countries’ sovereign debts – incurred through our neo-colonial global financial system – predate the climate crisis but are intensifying with it. Campaigners brought these asks to COP27, pointing out that low-income countries are forced to pay wealthier countries the initial $100 billion a year they have been promised in climate finance many times over in debt service payments.

The economic volatility of the last few years has compounded debts in many countries, preventing public spending on basic needs, let alone climate action. In response, some governments and agencies are finally making serious debt proposals like cancelling $100 billion a year for the next decade.

Finally, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s popular Bridgetown Agenda to tackle debt and climate has components of many these proposals, as well as an ask for the International Monetary Fund to inject at least $650-billion worth of reserve assets into struggling economies annually through Special Drawing Rights.

Together, these modest proposals add up to well over $3.7 trillion a year. More ambitious versions, closer to the scale of the Global North’s ongoing and historical debts to the rest of the world, could free up even more. We have always had the money for a liveable future where no one must choose between heating and eating, or transport and shelter – what may finally be arriving is the political impetus for the governments most responsible for today’s global crises to pay up.

Before and after the COP

Debates — honest and respectful, but sometimes sharp debates — are a sign of healthy political movement, which among much else, must avoid groupthink. I’ve been trying to do my part, as you might notice from these two webinars:

The first — a Global Just Transitions webinar organized by the Institute for Policy Studies — was What Climate Debt Does the North Owe the South? It took place before COP27, and featured (in addition to yours truly) Meena Raman, president of Friends of the Earth Malaysia and head of programs at Third World Network, and Alberto Acosta, Ecuador’s former minister of energy and mining and one of the principle drivers behind Ecuador’s storied attempt to raise international funds to keep the oil beneath the Yasuni rainforest in the ground. IPS’s John Feffer ably summarized the discussion here.

The second — How Can COP be Effective? — was organized by Jeremy Lent at the Deep Transition Network. It featured me, of course, as well as Osprey Orielle Lake, the Founder and Executive Director of WECAN, the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, International, and scientist and filmmaker Phoebe Barnard. Phoebe was unfortunately on a train with bad WiFi, but Osprey and I managed, between the two of us, to do a passable job of answering Lent’s extremely pressing question.

Threading the Needle at COP27

Almost nothing – but something real – changed at this year’s climate conference

There is something in the modern radical mind that wants the climate negotiations to fail. Such a failure, after all, would seem to prove that this wretched system cannot be reformed, that only a revolutionary break can re-open the human future.

COP27, the climate conference in Sharm El Sheik in Egypt, was not, however, a failure. I say this despite the fact that my inbox contains, among much else, an alert from an international organization I generally support (and will not name) that tells me that “For the 27th time in its history, COP, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, has failed. The rapid degradation of our planet by our industrial economy will not be held in check.”

Alas, this email’s date stamp, November 18, places it two days before COP27 ended. During those two days, the rich countries that had blocked the establishment of the Loss and Damage fund folded under immense political pressure, thus allowing COP27 to finally create the fund.

The United States, the greatest of the miscreants, was the last to stand down. By some reports, it only did so after a last-minute threat by European negotiators to abandon the talks. But despite this win, the endless U.S. stalling did immense damage. In particular, it allowed the Egyptian presidency, no friend of humanity and nature, to play out an end-game gambit in which, finally, the core mitigation text—which is far too weak—couldn’t be challenged without putting the new fund at risk.

This was a failure, no doubt about it. But it was not a systemic failure. It wasn’t the fault of “the COP”—as in “COP27 is a COP out,” one of the least inspired of the recent headlines—unless this accusation extends to the UN system itself, which condemns the climate talks to consensus decision-making. This might be fair enough, save for one thing – blaming the UN lets the governments themselves off the hook, and this will not do, because the governments could yet change the rules.

Still, the Loss and Damage fund is a very big deal, or will be if we manage to provision it – to fund it adequately. As Mohamed Adow, the executive director of Power Shift Africa, put it, “What we have is an empty bucket. Now we need to fill it so that support can flow to the most impacted people who are suffering right now at the hands of the climate crisis.”

This is exactly right, and not just because a great deal of loss and damage finance is needed. So too is a great deal of mitigation finance. And adaptation finance. And just transition finance. But after COP27’s loss and damage finance battle, something very large has shifted. Back in the old days, when it was still possible to honestly imagine that mitigation alone would be sufficient, it was also possible to argue that the redirection of private capital flows would more or less suffice. But those days are over. Today, no one honestly believes that a meaningful flow of loss and damage finance will come through private channels, and this realization spills over to the transition portfolio as a whole.

The decision to create the loss and damage fund has thus queued up the real financing battle, in which international public finance takes center stage. Further, it did this even while it pushed the linked battle to phase out fossil fuels to a qualitatively new level. That battle was lost at COP27, but this was just an initial skirmish. Indeed, at COP27, the government of India, which will soon hold the G20 Presidency, came out, again and unambiguously, for the “phase down” (not “out”) of all fossil fuels, not just coal. The politics here are complex and fraught, and they promise to remain so, but this was unambiguously good news. The old days in which all major G77 politicians could be expected to reflexively argue that fossil energy is essential to development are, it seems, over.

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The Imperative of Cooperation

This year’s Civil Society Equity ReviewThe Imperative of Cooperation: Steps Toward and Equitable Response to the Climate Crisis — builds on previous years’ elaborations of fair shares and its many meanings and implications, elaborations that have focused on emission reductions, adaptation, loss & damage, and fossil fuel phase out.

Unlike previous reports, this year’s is a bit of a compendium. It focuses on international cooperation as such, discussing and surveying key areas where international cooperation is both possible and necessary. In so doing, it presents opportunities for international cooperation that very explicitly apply to all countries and continents, though it also pauses to recognize how the particular situation in Africa – the host of COP27 – crystalizes some of the key inequities of the malfunctioning world order.

This report outlines areas of potential international cooperation across four broad areas:

  • International Cooperation under the UNFCCC
  • International Cooperation through initiatives and multilateral platforms to address financing, renewable energy and fossil fuel phase-out
  • International Cooperation to manage energy price instability and a fair share phase out
  • International Cooperation Towards Changing the Rules and Architecture of Global Trade, Investment, Finance and Technology

Needs-based Assessment — A Negotiator’s Brief

Just before COP27, the Equity Working Group of the Independent Global Stocktake organized a workshop entitled “Enabling a Needs-Based and Equitable Climate Regime”. It was extremely illuminating, because — as it happens — needs based assessment is fated to be key to any international effort sharing system that is scoped to include more than mitigation alone.

Consider adaptation need, or loss and damage need, or just transition need in general. All countries have such needs, and many countries require support if they are to have any real chance of meeting them, and thus successfully rising to the climate challenge. But how can such support be assessed, relative to the scope and nature of these needs? And how can this be done in any sort of meaningful way?

The challenge here is fundamental to any true global stocktake. For this reason, we distilled the takeaways from the needs-based assessment workshop into this Negotiator’s Brief, which was widely distributed, at COP27, among developing country negotiators. It was, by all accounts, quite helpful.