Race for human harm, huge climate cost

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) – It was a total loss – the type usually glossed over in big faceless statistics, such as the $40 billion in damage from this summer’s floods in Pakistan that submerged a third of the nation.

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

This is the human side of a contentious issue that will likely dominate Egypt’s climate negotiations this month. It’s about big money, justice, responsibility and accountability. Extreme weather events are getting worse as the world warms, with a study estimating that human-caused climate change has increased rainfall that causes flooding in Pakistan by up to 50%.

While Pakistan was flooded, six energy companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Saudi Aramco and Total Energies — made a profit of $97.49 billion from July to September. Poorer nations, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European leaders and US President Joe Biden are calling on fossil fuel companies to pay a windfall tax. Many want some of that money, along with additional aid from wealthy nations that spewed the lion’s share of the heat-trapping gases, to be used to pay countries hit by past pollution, such as Pakistan.

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

“Loss and damage will be the priority and the determining factor of whether COP27 succeeds or not,” said Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Watuti, referring to the climate talks in Egypt. Senior UN officials say they are looking for “something significant in loss and damage” and were “certainly encouraged” by negotiations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to put the issue on the meeting’s agenda.

Loss and damage money is different from two other financial aid schemes already in place to help poorer nations develop carbon-free energy and adapt to future warming.

Since 2009, the world’s rich nations have pledged to spend $100 billion in climate aid for poor nations, with most of it going to help them wean themselves off coal, oil and gas, and to create greener energy systems. Officials now want half of that to go toward building systems to help adapt to future climate disasters.

Neither financial pledge has yet been met, but both are missing the point of paying for current and past climate disasters such as heat waves in India, floods in Pakistan and droughts in Africa.

“Our current levels of global warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) have already caused dangerous and widespread loss and damage to nature and billions of people,” said Climate Analytics scientist Adelle Thomas from the Bahamas.

“The losses and damages are inevitable and unevenly distributed” with the poorest nations, the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable most affected, he said.

After years of not wanting to talk about reparations in climate talks, US and European officials say they are willing to have discussions about loss and damage. But the U.S. — the No. 1 historic carbon polluter — won’t agree to anything that sounds like responsibility, said special envoy John Kerry.

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

“Loss and damage is a way of acknowledging past harm and compensating for that past harm,” Mankin said. “These damages are scientifically identifiable. And now it is up to politics either to defend this evil or to reward this evil.’

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

American Gas Association CEO Karen Harbert said Americans won’t go for such payments in faraway countries and that’s not the way to think about it.

“It’s not just Pakistan. Let’s talk about Puerto Rico. Let’s talk about Louisiana. Other things going on 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 of all, you have an opportunity with natural gas to have a much cleaner electricity system than you have today,” he said.

But for Aaisa Bibi, a pregnant mother of four from Punjab province, cheaper cleaner energy doesn’t mean much when her family has nowhere to live but a refugee camp.

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

In Kenya’s semi-arid Makueni County, where a devastating drought has stretched for more than three years, 47-year-old sheep and goat farmer John Gichuki said: “It’s traumatic to see your animals die of thirst and hunger.”

The Gichuki maize and pulse crops have failed for four consecutive seasons. “The farm is entirely at the mercy of the climate,” he said.

In India, record heat linked to climate change has caused deaths and destroyed crops. Elsewhere is the devastation from tropical cyclones that are wetter and stronger because of the burning of fossil fuels.

This global issue has a parallel within the United States in sometimes contentious debates over compensation for the damages caused by slavery.

“We’re talking about reparations in many ways,” said University of Maryland environmental health and justice professor Sacoby Wilson. “It’s an appropriate term to use,” he said, because rich northern countries have benefited from fossil fuels, while the poorer global south suffers the damage of floods, droughts, climate refugees and famine.

The Government of Barbados has proposed changes to the way multinational development banks lend to poorer countries to account for climate vulnerability and disasters. Pakistan and others have asked for debt relief.

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

Persaud suggests a long-term levy on high oil, coal and gas prices, but in reverse. At 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 into a fund to pay victims of climate loss and damage, without adding to the cost of living.

U.N. chief Guterres, who described the movement on loss and damage as a “touchstone” of success for the climate conference in Egypt, named two senior national officials to try to broker a deal: Germany’s envoy climate activist and former head of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan and Chile’s Environment Minister Maisa Rojas.

“The fact that it has been adopted as an agenda item shows progress and the parties are taking a mature and constructive attitude towards it,” UN climate secretary Simon Steele said at a press conference on Sunday. “It’s a difficult subject area. It’s been around for thirty-plus years. So the fact that it exists as a substantial agenda item I think bodes well.”

“What will be most telling is how these discussions progress to the substantive debate over the next couple of weeks,” Steele said.

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Climate reporters 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 AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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

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