Climate change: Rich nations accused of ‘betrayal’ at Bonn talks

Climate talks in Bonn headed into their final day with rich nations accused of betraying the developing world. Poorer countries say that a promise they would be compensated for the damage done by richer countries’ emissions would be honoured this year. They believed that new money to pay for the impacts of climate change that they can’t adapt to would be set up.

But in the discussions in Bonn, they say the issue has been side-lined by the US and Europe. 

For many participants, a concept known as loss and damage has become the key issue in the global climate negotiations. 

Developing country participants say climate impacts on their countries are more severe than on the richer nations and they have less financial capacity to cope.

“We are already living with loss and damages for the last 25 years,” said Adriana Vasquez Rodriquez from the Association La Ruta del Clima, a Costa Rican environmental group.

“We have families who have lost their houses, their crops, their lives, and no-one is paying for that, we are running out of resources, and at the same time, we are depending on debt.”

The developing nations argue that the climate change they are experiencing has been caused by historic carbon emissions that originated in richer countries. They say that Europe and the US have a responsibility now to pay for these losses and damages.

The US and Europe don’t agree. They fear that if they pay for historic emissions it could put their countries on the hook for billions of dollars for decades or even centuries to come. 

The issue came to a head at COP26 in Glasgow where what’s been termed a “delicate compromise” was reached.

The island states and developing countries would agree to the Glasgow climate pact with a big focus on cutting carbon, if the richer nations would finally set up a process that would fund loss and damage.

“The compromise was based on an understanding that countries would be willing to start talking and taking decisions on dealing with how to get that finance flowing for loss and damage,” said Alex Scott from E3G, an environmental think tank. 

“And we haven’t seen that come to fruition here. Instead, we’ve seen a workshop set up to talk about how we can fix some of the problems.”

The compromise involved the setting up of the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage, which had its first workshop meeting here in Bonn.

Poorer nations hoped that this mainly technical meeting would formally put loss and damage on the agenda for political leaders due to meet at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh in November. 

But, as yet, that hasn’t happened as several countries are opposed.

If no progress is made, many participants say this would be a significant blow to unity ahead of COP27.

“It would be tragic,” said ambassador Conrod Hunte, lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

“What has been achieved here? Not much, I would say, there’s still a lot more to achieve. Am I happy? No, I’m not happy.”

Climate campaigners went much further than the diplomats.

“Vulnerable nations are being betrayed by rich countries. The EU, US, others have been blocking progress on loss and damage finance,” tweeted Tasneem Essop from CAN International.

“We are extremely disappointed at what’s happening at the negotiations at Bonn.” 

Some took aim at US climate envoy John Kerry who told the BBC at the start of this meeting that the world was “cooked” if carbon emissions weren’t cut rapidly. 

“Global south countries are doing everything to get the US, the largest historic emitter, to pay for the harms they have caused,” said Rachel Rose Jackson from Corporate Accountability.

“Meanwhile the US cooks up delay after delay to avoid taking any responsibility or action on the climate crisis. It’s not the US that’s ‘cooked’. They’re doing the cooking.”

With one day of talking left, there is some hope that a compromise can be found to put loss and damage on the agenda for the COP in Egypt.