Cop27 climate conference off to difficult start with stand-off over loss and damage payments

Liability and compensation absent from pledge to discuss ‘funding arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with climate change’

The opening of Cop27 climate summit got off to a difficult start with a stand-off between participating nations providing a stark indication of major differences between wealthy and developing countries.

Two weeks of talks at Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt were delayed after delegates from 196 countries tussled late on Saturday night and into Sunday morning over what should be discussed at the conference.

The disagreement centred on how the contentious loss and damage issue should be addressed – this refers to how best to help the poorest countries, especially from consequences of extreme weather events. Developing countries are most vulnerable to accelerating global warming.

The final agreed agenda item directed the parties to discuss “matters relating to funding arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including a focus on addressing loss and damage”. There was no reference to liability or compensation.


US special presidential envoy on climate John Kerry said on Saturday the issue would be on the agenda. “Obviously those countries with greater means across the board – and that includes some developing countries that have greater means – need to also step up and help in this transition.”

‘Bad start’

He added: “We don’t view it – and we’re not going to view it – as compensation. We are going to view it as our efforts to try to help countries to adapt, to be able to become more resilient and obviously address the challenges that they face as a result of the losses and damages. You have to work out the methodology by which you are going to assign a process that works for everybody.”

“The opening plenary was a very bad start for the critical loss and damage issue,” said Ross Fitzpatrick of Christian Aid Ireland. “Loss and damage is officially on the Cop27 agenda but wealthy countries have already stripped out language referring to ‘liability’ or ‘compensation’,” he added.

“This is a blatant refusal to acknowledge the ‘polluter pays’ principle – a core element of climate justice.”

Some NGOs welcomed the resolution, including Trócaire head of policy and advocacy Siobhán Curran, who said it represented a “small step forward” towards delivering climate justice.

“Political leaders meeting at Cop27 have a special responsibility to urgently drive the transformation needed to secure the sustainable future of our planet and its people,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in advance of the leaders’ summit which opens on Monday and continues until Tuesday.

“Climate change is the single greatest challenge the world faces. Its effects are already being felt in more extreme weather events, and its consequences are fuelling conflict, global instability, competition for resources and abject human misery in some of the world’s poorest countries,” Mr Martin added.

Food security

While he did not refer to loss and damage, he acknowledged many vulnerable countries lacked the resources they need to deal with the challenges they face. “I expect that climate finance will be a prominent issue… and I hope that developed countries will step up, ensuring that commitments entered into at previous meetings are delivered.”

The Taoiseach will participate in a number of high-level events including on food security and on the sustainability of vulnerable communities throughout Monday. He will join the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, and German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, for a working breakfast tomorrow on “The Global Shield Against Climate Risks”, an initiative aimed at scaling up finance needed to protect against climate risks in poor countries.

On Tuesday, he will deliver Ireland’s national statement, setting out the country’s climate ambition. He will also have a number of bilateral meetings with fellow leaders.

Minister for the Climate Eamon Ryan said: “The devastating effects of climate change are clear to all, with extreme weather events becoming ever-more frequent across the world. We know we must act now to protect people and the planet, and it is vital that we act together.”

“We have to move as hard and as fast as possible to reduce our emissions. Every kg of emissions saved matters at this stage. Cop27 is an opportunity to work together to keep commitments already made on track and to make further progress on net-zero ambitions,” added Mr Ryan who will lead negotiations on behalf of Ireland during the closing week.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said 2022 had been a year for devastating climate impacts: “The deadly floods in Pakistan are just one recent example of why the decisions to be taken at Cop27 are so important.”

He is to hold discussions with climate-vulnerable and partner countries “to see what more Ireland can do to promote strong and rapid climate action” on Wednesday.

Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid Colm Brophy said: “Climate change is happening right now and is having devastating impacts. In the Horn of Africa, tens of millions of people are going hungry directly because of climate change. Unless the world comes together to take collective action, we are condemning those people to an appalling famine that could lead to a loss of life on an unimaginable scale.

“This is Africa’s COP and it has to result in practical and concrete action. We can’t afford a talking shop. What is happening today in the Horn of Africa is a wake-up call for the future we are walking ourselves into,” added Mr Brophy who is attending Cop27 later this week.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times