‘We couldn’t let them down’: How Pakistan floods spurred fight against Cop fund for loss and damage

In early September, after unprecedented rains left a third of Pakistan under water, its climate change minister presented the country’s position for COP27. “We are on the front line and intend to keep loss and damage and climate disaster adaptation at the heart of our arguments and negotiations. There will be no getting away from this,” Sherry Rehman said.

Pakistan brought that determination to the Sharm el-Sheikh negotiations and, as chair of the G77 plus China negotiating bloc, succeeded in keeping developing countries together in the face of loss and damage – despite the efforts of some rich countries to divide them. Its chief negotiator, Nabeel Munir, a career diplomat, was backed by a team of experienced seasoned negotiators who had witnessed the devastation and suffering of the floods, which caused $30billion (£25billion) of 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 the G77, which includes a wide range of countries facing a range of climate, economic and security challenges, had shown such unity since 2009, when they rejected the Copenhagen Accord at the of Cop15, according to Asad Rehman, from the United Kingdom. Charity War on Want. “Without Pakistan’s leadership, we wouldn’t have the result,” he said. “Their diplomats are experienced in maintaining the discipline and unity of the G77, and have thwarted attempts by the EU and others to turn the group of least developed countries and the Alliance of Small Island States against other countries and to accept a narrow fund.”

Meena Raman, director of Third World Network and expert on UN climate summits, agreed: “We have seen attempts to split the G77, with overtures made by rich countries to the vulnerable 20, in an effort to pressure on countries like China and India will contribute to the fund. We have seen such efforts to divide and control time and time again. But when the G77 stays strong, we get good results; if divided, developing countries lose.

Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Minister for Climate Change, with Xie Zhenhua, China's Special Envoy for Climate, at COP27
Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Minister for Climate Change, with Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Envoy for Climate, at COP27. Photography: Peter Dejong/AP

Despite the multitude of disappointments at Cop27, failing on loss and damage was not an option, according to Munir. “Our resolve came from seeing the victims of the catastrophic floods we faced,” he said. “The idea that maybe it wouldn’t happen came up many times, 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, singled out Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Nasr for suffering losses and damage on the line. “He consulted with all the groups [parties] and fixing the cover [final] decision,” he said.

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

Civil society pressure has been key 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 best efforts to silence dissent, small but powerful protests demanding climate justice took place almost daily inside the negotiation zone, and media around the world broadcast activists and experts calling on the US, UK, EU and other world leaders.

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

Footage of Farooq Tariq, 67, a landless peasant organizer from Pakistan, has gone viral in Pakistan and he has been interviewed by major media outlets including the BBC, Time and the Guardian. “This victory was due to 30 years of constant efforts to demand loss and damage, but Pakistan was also the focus,” he said. “The world has seen the real destruction, damage and loss in Pakistan; the suffering of more than 33 million Pakistanis forced wealthy nations to agree on this historic decision. The Pakistani delegation played a major role, with people like us behind them with vital support.

Grassroots leaders and advocates from the US and EU also played a significant role, pressuring political leaders regarding casualties and damages, which made them hard to let go. “When the United States was about to withdraw, American civil society groups pushed hard, putting pressure on congressional leaders. It was hard to step back without being cast as a villain,” Rehman said.

Harjeet Singh, global policy director of the Climate Action Network, a network of 1,900 organizations from 130 countries, said: “Pakistan has taken the lead. But pressure from civil society has empowered negotiators inside conference rooms to fight harder.

The Loss and Damage Fund is far from perfect – for now it’s an empty pot of money, and the devil will be in the details worked out by a transition committee that will begin work early in the year. next year. But it gave some hope to the UN process. “For all its flaws, there is no other alternative,” Rehman said.

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

COP27 took place at the end of a catastrophic climatic year. Pakistan, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, but responsible for less than 1% of global emissions, must somehow recover and rebuild. The Loss and Damage Fund will come too late to help those who are suffering now, but as the neon sign on the Pakistani pavilion said: “What happens in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.

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