Loss and damage: Fight over human harm, huge climate costs

Nov 6, 2022, 11:00 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2022, 4:51 am
FILE - Army troops evacuate people from a flood-hit area in Rajanpur, district of Punjab, Pakistan,...

FILE - Army troops evacuate people from a flood-hit area in Rajanpur, district of Punjab, Pakistan, Aug. 27, 2022. Loss and damage is the human side of a contentious issue that will likely dominate climate negotiations in Egypt. Extreme weather is worsening as the world warms, with a study calculating that human-caused climate change increased Pakistan’s flood-causing rain by up to 50%. (AP Photo/Asim Tanveer, File)

(AP Photo/Asim Tanveer, File)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — It was a total loss — the type that is usually glossed over in big impersonal statistics like $40 billion in damage from this summer’s Pakistan floods that put one-third of the nation underwater.

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

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

While Pakistan was flooding, six energy companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell,BP, Saudi Aramco and Total Energies — made $97.49 billion in profits from July to September. Poorer nations, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Europe’s leaders and U.S. President Joe Biden are calling for fossil fuel firms to pay a windfall profits tax. Many want some of that money, along with additional aid from rich nations that spewed the lion’s share of heat-trapping gases, to be used to pay countries victimized by past pollution, like Pakistan.

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

“Loss and damage is going to be the priority and the defining factor of whether or not COP27 succeeds,” said Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, referring to the climate talks in Egypt . United Nations top officials say they are looking for “something meaningful in loss and damage” and were “certainly encouraged” by negotiations Friday, Saturday and Sunday that put the issue on the meeting agenda.

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

Since 2009, the rich nations of the world have promised to spend $100 billion in climate aid for poor nations, with most of it going toward helping wean them off coal, oil and natural gas and build greener energy systems. Officials now want as much as half of that to go to building up systems to help adapt to future climate disasters.

Neither financial pledge has been fulfilled yet, but both don’t address the issue 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 at 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) have already caused dangerous and widespread losses and damages to nature and to billions of people,” said Climate Analytics scientist Adelle Thomas of the Bahamas.

“Losses and damages are unavoidable and unequally distributed” with poorer nations, the elderly, the poor and vulnerable hit harder, she said.

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

U.S. emissions that created 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-oriented damage, not rainfall.

“Loss and damage is a way of both recognizing past harm and compensating for that past harm,” Mankin said. “These harms are scientifically identifiable. And now it’s up to the politics to either defend that harm or remunerate for that harm.”

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

American Gas Association CEO Karen Harbert said Americans won’t go for such payments to faraway nations and that’s not the way to think of the issue.

“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’d say … the solution is first of all, you have the opportunity with natural gas to have a much cleaner electric system than you have today,” she said.

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

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

In semi-arid Makueni County in Kenya, where a devastating drought has stretched more than three years, 47-year old goat and sheep farmer John Gichuki said: “It is traumatizing to watch your livestock die of thirst and hunger.”

Gichuki’s maize and legumes crops have failed four consecutive seasons. “The farm is solely on the mercies of climate,” he said.

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

This global issue has a parallel inside the United States in at times contentious discussions about paying for damages caused by slavery.

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

The government of Barbados has suggested changes in how the multinational development banks loan to poorer nations to take into account climate vulnerability and disasters. Pakistan and others have called for debt relief.

It’s “about putting ourselves in everybody 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 natural gas prices, but one done in reverse. At current high energy prices there would be no tax, so no increase in inflation. But once fossil fuel prices decline 10%, 1% of the price drop would go to a fund to pay victims of climate loss and damage, without adding to the cost of living.

United Nations’ chief Guterres, who has called movement on loss and damage a “litmus test” for success for the Egypt climate conference, has named two high-level national officials to try to hammer out a deal: Germany’s climate envoy and former Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan and Chile’s environment minister, Maisa Rojas.

“The fact that it has been adopted as an agenda item demonstrates progress and parties taking a mature and constructive attitude towards this,” U.N. Climate Secretary Simon Stiell said in a Sunday news conference. “This is a difficult subject area. It’s been floating for thirty plus years. So that the fact that it is there as a substantive agenda item, I believe it bodes well.”

“What will be most telling is how those discussions progress in the substantive discussion over the next couple of 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.

___

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

___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model. Barely 11% of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition Islamists and ignored by […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Philippines probes labor abuses in Kuwait after new killing

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government said Saturday it will take steps to assess and prevent abuses including rape and maltreatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, after a housemaid was killed and dumped in a desert in the oil-rich emirate. The remains of Jullebee Ranara were flown home Friday night from Kuwait, where the […]
6 hours ago
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni departs Algiers after a two day official visit in Algeria, Mo...
Associated Press

Italy’s premier visits Libya for talks on energy, migration

CAIRO (AP) — Italy’s prime minister visited Libya for talks Saturday with officials from the country’s west-based government focusing on energy and migration, top issues for Italy and the European Union. Libya is the third North African country Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited over the last two weeks as she seeks to secure new supplies […]
6 hours ago
FILE  - A view of a Flybe flight departing from Manchester Airport, Manchester, England, Jan. 13, 2...
Associated Press

Flights canceled as UK airline Flybe sinks into bankruptcy

LONDON (AP) — Struggling U.K. regional airline Flybe collapsed for the second time in three years Saturday, putting jobs on the line and leaving passengers stranded. The airline initially slumped into bankruptcy in March 2020, shedding 2,400 jobs, as coronavirus restrictions decimated the travel industry. It relaunched in April last year, flying many of the […]
6 hours ago
CORRECTS THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S NAME TO KWIYEON HA - Staff of Kyodo Senpaku Co. holds canned whale meat...
Associated Press

Japan firm opens whale meat vending machines to push sales

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — A Japanese whaling operator, after struggling for years to promote its products amid protests from conservationists, has found a new way to cultivate clientele and bolster sales: whale meat vending machines. The Kujira (Whale) Store, an unmanned outlet that recently opened in the port town of Yokohama near Tokyo, houses three […]
1 day ago
The Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 passes the High Class Racing ORECA LMP2 07 in a turn during a p...
Associated Press

IMSA takes North American sports cars into hybrid era

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Cadillac growls, while the Porsche and BMW scream. The Acura sounds like an Indy car, and for fun, turn your back to the track and listen carefully as the cars roar around Daytona International Speedway in a new era of IMSA sports car racing. The top prototype class has […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Loss and damage: Fight over human harm, huge climate costs