‘We couldn’t fail them’: how Pakistan’s floods spurred fight at Cop for loss and damage fund

With the deadly devastation fresh in the world’s mind, Pakistan pushed for damage funds with other frontline countries

In early September, after unprecedented rainfall had left a third of Pakistan under water, its climate change minister set out the country’s stall for Cop27. “We are on the frontline and intend to keep loss and damage and adapting to climate catastrophes at the core of our arguments and negotiations. There will be no moving away from that,” Sherry Rehman said.

Pakistan brought that resolve to the negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh and, as president of the G77 plus China negotiating bloc, succeeded in keeping developing countries united on loss and damage – despite efforts by some rich countries to divide them. Its chief negotiator, Nabeel Munir, a career diplomat, was backed by a team of savvy veteran negotiators who had witnessed the devastation and suffering from the floods, which caused $30bn (£25bn) of damage and economic losses. 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 diverse range of countries with an array of climate, economic and security challenges, had shown such unity since 2009, when they rejected the Copenhagen accord at Cop15, according to Asad Rehman, of the UK charity War on Want. “Without the leadership of Pakistan, we wouldn’t have the outcome,” he said. “Their diplomats are experienced in maintaining G77 discipline and unity, and prevented attempts by the EU and others to turn the least developed countries group and the Alliance of Small Island States against the other countries and accept a narrow fund.”

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

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister of climate change, with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate, at Cop27
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister of climate change, with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate, at Cop27. Photograph: 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 that we faced,” he said. “The thought that it might not happen came many times, but the whole country – and developing world – was watching us and we couldn’t fail them.”

But Pakistani officials cannot take all the credit. Zaheer Fakir, a South African negotiator, singled out the Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Nasr for getting loss and damage over the line. “He was doing the consultations with all the groups [parties] and fixing the cover [final] decision,” he said.

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

Civil society pressure was critical 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 every day inside the negotiating zone, and the world’s media broadcast activists and experts calling out the US, UK, EU and other world leaders.

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

Footage of Farooq Tariq, 67, a landless peasant organiser from Pakistan, went viral in Pakistan and he was interviewed by major news outlets including the BBC, Time and the Guardian. “This victory was down to 30 years of our consistent efforts to demand loss and damage, but also Pakistan was in focus,” he said. “The world saw the real destruction, damages and losses in Pakistan; the suffering of over 33 million Pakistanis forced the rich nations to agree on this historic decision. The Pakistan delegation played a major role, with people like us behind them with critical support.”

Grassroots leaders and advocates from the US and EU also played an important role, put pressure on political leaders on loss and damage, which made it difficult for them to walk away. “When the US was close to stepping away, American civil society groups pushed hard, lobbying congressional leaders. It made it hard to back away without being cast as the villains,” said Rehman.

Harjeet Singh, the global political director at Climate Action Network, a network of 1,900 organisations from 130 countries, said: “Pakistan led from the front. But civil society pressure gave power to negotiators inside the conference rooms to fight harder.”

The loss and damage fund is far from perfect – as yet it is an empty pot of money, and the devil will be in the detail worked out by a transitional committee that will start work early next year. But it has restored some hope in the UN process. “Despite all its flaws, there is no other alternative,” said Rehman.

Singh said: “There is no other place than the UN system to fight for global justice.”

Cop27 took place at the end of a catastrophic climate year. Pakistan, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, yet 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 suffering now, but as the illuminated sign on the Pakistani pavilion said: “What goes on in Pakistan won’t stay in Pakistan.”


Nina Lakhani

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Climate ‘loss and damage’: why it’s such a big deal at Cop27
Global heating crisis is felt most by countries that are least to blame, so funding is central to demands for climate justice

Nina Lakhani Climate justice reporter

05, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: US and UK fall billions short of ‘fair share’ of climate funding
Exclusive: Support for developing countries will be critical issue at Cop27 but new data shows rich countries are lagging

Damian Carrington Environment editor

07, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Majority of Britons say UK should pay for climate action in poor countries
Exclusive: Funding from rich countries is critical issue at Cop27 and poll shows many think UK has duty to provide it

Damian Carrington Environment editor

17, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Wealth tax of 0.5% could cover UK’s share of loss and damage fund, says charity
International fund set up at Cop27 is intended to provide compensation to countries worst hit by climate breakdown

Damien Gayle Environment correspondent

11, May, 2023 @11:01 PM

Article image
Pakistan floods ‘made up to 50% worse by global heating’
Study says climate crisis likely to have significantly increased rainfall and made future floods more likely

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

15, Sep, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Pakistan reels from floods: ‘We thought we’d die of hunger. Now we fear death from water’
After record temperatures and drought, swaths of the country lie submerged, symptoms of a climate crisis its people play little part in

Shah Meer Baloch in Pakistan and Matthew Taylor

17, Sep, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Cop27 talks continue over EU climate loss and damage fund proposal
Last-ditch plan for providing cash to countries suffering climate-related disaster brings overtime wranglingCop27 live – latest news updates

Fiona Harvey, Adam Morton and Patrick Greenfield in Sharm el-Sheikh

18, Nov, 2022 @5:52 PM

Article image
Gordon Brown says China must pay into climate fund for poor countries
Former prime minister says US and Europe will pay biggest share of loss and damage fund, but China must too

Fiona Harvey Environment editor

26, Nov, 2022 @4:41 PM

Article image
Climate finance and human rights fears: what happened on day two of Cop27?
Deep chasm emerges between long-time polluting rich states and developing countries on second full day of summit

Guardian staff

08, Nov, 2022 @6:59 PM

Article image
Imprisoned activist’s lawyer denied access at Egyptian jail during climate summit – as it happened
British-Egyptian Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has been on hunger strike for months, stopped drinking water when Cop27 began

Bibi van der Zee, Natalie Hanman and Helena Horton

10, Nov, 2022 @6:09 PM