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‘We couldn’t fail them’: how Pakistan’s floods spurred fight at Cop for loss and damage fund | Cop27

ln early September, after unprecedented rainfall had left a third of the country Pakistan underwater, the minister of climate change plotted the state of the country for Cop27. “We are on the front lines and intend to keep loss and damage and adaptation to climate disasters at the center of our arguments and negotiations. There’s no getting around that,” said Sherry Rehman.

Pakistan brought that determination to the Sharm el-Sheikh negotiations and, as president of the G77 negotiating bloc plus China, managed to keep developing countries united on loss and damage – despite attempts by some rich countries to divide them. The chief negotiator, Nabeel Munir, a career diplomat, was supported by a team of experienced negotiators who had witnessed the devastation and suffering of the floods, which caused $30bn (£25bn) in damage and economic loss. Every day, Munir repeated the same message: “Loss and damage is not charity, it’s about climate justice.”

It was the first time that the G77, which encompasses a wide range of countries facing different climate, economic and security challenges, has shown such unity since 2009, when it Copenhagen Accord at Cop15, according to Asad Rehman of UK charity War on Want. “Without Pakistan’s leadership, we would not have the outcome,” he said. Their diplomats are experienced in maintaining the discipline and unity of the G77, and have thwarted efforts by the EU and others to pit the Least Developed Countries Group and the Alliance of Small Island States against the other countries and create a narrow fund.”

Meena Raman, the director of Third World Network and an expert on the UN climate summits, agreed: “We saw attempts to split the G77, with rapprochements from the rich countries towards the vulnerable 20, in an attempt to to put pressure on countries such as China and India contribute to the fund. We’ve seen such divide-and-control efforts time and time again. But if the G77 stays strong, we get good results; if they are divided, developing countries lose.”

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Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's Climate Change Minister, with Xie Zhenhua, China's Special Envoy for Climate Change, at Cop27
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate, at Cop27. Photo: Peter Dejong/AP

Despite the many disappointments at Cop27, failure for loss and damage was not an option according to Munir. “Our determination came from seeing the victims of the catastrophic flooding we faced,” he said. “The thought that it might not happen came up a lot, but the whole country – and the developing world – was watching us and we couldn’t let them down.”

But Pakistani officials cannot take all the credit. Zaheer Fakir, a South African negotiator, expelled Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Nasr for agreeing loss and damage. “He consulted with all groups [parties] and fixing the lid [final] decision,” he said.

Fakir warned against premature celebrations. “It’s not really a win yet. All that was decided was to set up financing arrangements and the fund… [There are] no specific contributions or notion of size, which will have to be unpacked.”

Civil society pressure has been critical in building and unifying momentum around loss and damage since Cop26 in Glasgow, as part of the growing campaign for climate justice.

Despite Egypt’s efforts to silence dissent, small but powerful protests took place almost every day in the negotiating zone, demanding climate justice.

Farooq Tariq, a landless peasant organizer, in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Farooq Tariq, a landless peasant organizer, in Sharm el-Sheikh. Photo: Nina Lakhani/The Guardian

Footage from Faroq Tariq67, a landless farmer organizer from Pakistan, went viral in Pakistan and he was interviewed by major news outlets including the BBC, Time and the Guardian. “This victory was due to 30 years of our consistent efforts to demand loss and damage, but Pakistan was also at the center,” he said. “The world saw the real destruction, damage and losses in Pakistan; the suffering of more than 33 million Pakistanis forced the wealthy countries to agree to this historic decision. The Pakistani delegation played a major role, with people like us behind it with critical support.”

Grassroots leaders and advocates from the US and EU also played an important role, pressuring political leaders for loss and damage, making it difficult for them to walk away. “As the US was about to step out, US civil society organizations pressed hard and congressional leaders lobbied. It made it hard to pull out without being cast as villains,” Rehman said.

Harjeet Singh, the global political director of Climate Action Network, a network of 1,900 organizations from 130 countries, said: “Pakistan led from the front. But pressure from civil society empowered the negotiators in the conference rooms to fight harder.”

The damage fund is far from perfect – it’s still an empty pot of money right now and the devil will be working into the details through a transitional committee that will start work early next year. But it has restored some hope to the UN process. “For all its shortcomings, there is no other alternative,” Rehman said.

Singh said, “There is no place other than the UN system to fight for global justice.”

Cop27 occurred at the end of a disastrous climate year. Pakistan, one of the most climate-sensitive countries in the world, yet responsible for less than 1% of global emissions, needs to recover and rebuild in some way. The loss and damage fund will come too late to help those who are suffering now, but as the illuminated sign on the Pakistan pavilion said, “What happens in Pakistan does not stay in Pakistan.”

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