Battle for human injury, huge climate costs

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) – It was a total loss — the type usually obscured in big impersonal statistics, such as $40 billion in damage from this summer’s floods in Pakistan, which left a third of the country under water. came to be.

“We’ve lost everything, our house and our belongings,” said Taj Mai, a mother of seven who is four months pregnant and living in a relief camp in Pakistan’s Punjab province. “At least in a camp our children get food and milk.”

This is the human side of a controversial issue likely to dominate Egypt’s climate negotiations this month. It’s about a lot of money, justice, guilt and taking responsibility. Extreme weather is worsening as the world warms, with a study calculating that human-induced climate change has increased flood-causing rain in Pakistan by up to 50%.

As Pakistan flooded, six energy companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Saudi Aramco and Total Energies — made $97.49 billion in profits from July to September. Poorer countries, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the leaders of Europe and US President Joe Biden are calling on fossil fuel companies to pay an exceptional profit tax. Many want some of that money, along with additional aid from rich countries that spewed out the lion’s share of heat-trapping gases, to pay for countries that have been victims of past pollution, such as Pakistan.

The issue of polluters paying for their climate mess is called loss and damage in international climate negotiations. It’s all about reparations.

“Loss and damage will become the priority and determinant of the success of COP27,” said Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, referring to Egypt’s climate talks. Top United Nations officials say they are looking for “something meaningful in loss and damage” and were “certainly encouraged” by negotiations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday that put the issue on the meeting’s agenda.

Money for loss and damage is different from two other financial aid systems that already exist to help poorer countries develop carbon-free energy and adapt to future warming.

Since 2009, the world’s rich countries have pledged to spend $100 billion on climate aid for poor countries, the bulk of which goes toward helping phase out coal, oil, and natural gas and building greener energy systems. Officials now want as much as half of that to go toward building systems to adapt to future climate disasters.

Neither financial commitment has yet been fulfilled, but neither address the issue of paying for current and past climate disasters, such as heatwaves in India, floods in Pakistan and drought in Africa.

“Our current levels of global warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) have already caused dangerous and widespread losses and damage to wildlife and billions of people,” said climate analysis scientist Adelle Thomas of the Bahamas.

“Loses and damage are inevitable and unevenly distributed” with poorer countries, the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable being hit harder, she said.

After years of not wanting to talk about reparations in climate talks, US and European officials say they are willing to talk about loss and damage. But the US – the No. 1 historical carbon polluter – will not agree to anything that sounds like liability, Special Envoy John Kerry said.

U.S. emissions that caused warmer temperatures caused at least $32 billion in damage to Pakistan’s gross domestic product between 1990 and 2014, according to calculations by Dartmouth climate researchers Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin based on past emissions. And that’s only based on temperature-related damage, not rainfall.

“Loss and damage is a way of both recognizing past damage and compensating for that past damage,” Mankin said. “This damage is scientifically identifiable. And now it is up to politicians to defend or compensate for that damage.”

According to figures from the Global Carbon Project, the United States puts more carbon dioxide into the air in 16 days from burning fossil fuels than Pakistan does in a year.

Karen Harbert, CEO of the American Gas Association, said Americans will not make such payments to distant lands and that is not the way to think about the problem.

“It’s not just Pakistan. Let’s talk about Puerto Rico. Let’s talk about Louisiana. Other things that are happening here at home that we also need to pay attention to and help our fellow Americans,” Harbert said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“If there was an opportunity to talk to people in Pakistan, I would say… the solution is first and foremost, you have the opportunity with natural gas to have a much cleaner electrical system than you have now,” she said.

But for Aaisa Bibi, a pregnant mother of four from the Punjab province, cheaper cleaner energy doesn’t mean much if her family has no place to live except a refugee camp.

“With less than 1% of global emissions, Pakistan is certainly not part of the climate change problem,” said Shabnam Baloch, director of the International Red Cross Pakistan, adding that people like Bibi are simply trying to survive floods and heat waves. droughts, low crop yields, water shortages and inflation.

In Kenya’s semi-arid Makueni County, where a devastating drought has lasted more than three years, 47-year-old goat and sheep farmer John Gichuki said: “Watching your livestock die of thirst and hunger is traumatic.”

Gichuki’s corn and legumes have failed for four consecutive seasons. “The farm is solely dependent on the benefits of the climate,” he said.

In India, the record heat is related to climate change which caused deaths and destroyed crops. Elsewhere, it’s devastation from tropical cyclones that are wetter and stronger from the burning of fossil fuels.

This global issue has a parallel in the United States in sometimes controversial discussions about paying for damages caused by slavery.

“In many ways, we’re talking about reparations,” said Sacoby Wilson, a professor of environmental health and justice at the University of Maryland. “It’s an appropriate term to use,” he said, because the rich northern countries have been getting the benefits of fossil fuels, while the poorer south of the world is getting the damage from floods, droughts, climate refugees and hunger.

The government of Barbados has proposed changes to the way the multinational development banks lend to poorer countries to take into account climate fragility and disasters. Pakistan and others have called for debt relief.

It’s about “putting ourselves in everyone’s shoes,” said Avinash Persaud, special envoy to Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Persaud proposes a long-term tax on high oil, coal and natural gas prices, but in reverse. At the current high energy prices, there would be no tax, so no increase in inflation. But once fossil fuel prices fall by 10%, 1% of the price drop would go to a fund to pay victims of climate loss and damage, without increasing the cost of living.

UN chief Guterres, who has called movement against loss and damage a “litmus test” for the success of Egypt’s climate conference, has appointed two senior national officials to try to strike a deal: German climate envoy and former Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan and Chilean Environment Minister Maisa Rojas.

“The fact that it has been adopted as an item on the agenda is a testament to progress and parties that have a mature and constructive attitude to it,” UN Climate Secretary Simon Stiell said at a Sunday press conference. “This is a difficult subject. It has been floating for thirty years. So the fact that it is there as a substantive agenda item, I think it promises a lot of good.”

“What will be most telling is how those discussions progress in the substantive discussion in the coming weeks,” Stiell said.


Climate data journalists Mary Katherine Wildeman in Hartford, Connecticut, and Camille Fassett in Seattle; Wanjohi Kabukuru in Mombasa, Kenya; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington; Shazia Bhatti in Rajanpur, Pakistan; Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, and Megan Janetsky in Havana, Cuba, contributed.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears


Associated Press climate and environmental awareness receives support from several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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