Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, looks at priorities for urgent action to address the impacts of rising CO2 emissions on vulnerable countries

The aerial photos of Pakistan in August were devastating in a year of unprecedented heatwaves across Europe, floods in Australia and South Africa, extreme heat and drought across the US, China, and Europe, and fires everywhere. They are now joined by images of economic dislocation in Cuba, Florida and the Carolinas as a result of Hurricane Ian.

In Pakistan, estimates are that flood damage will be around $10 billion, or at least 3% of the country's GDP. More than 1,000 people have died, and livestock too; 33 million people are displaced. The numbers are still rising.

This pummeling of Pakistan is the effect of carbon pollution. Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's climate minister, is clear: this is not a natural disaster but a disaster of the “Anthropocene – it is man-made”.

Just under a year ago, at the end of the most recent climate talks, COP26, in Glasgow, developing country delegates packed their bags and set off home “deferred, not defeated” in their quest to create a financial mechanism for loss and damage. Those countries who suffer the impacts of climate change, yet did not contribute to the climate crisis historically, have long sought support for the loss and damage they experience. 

After years of slow progress, developing countries went to Glasgow to get an agreement on financing for loss and damage. What they got instead was a two-year dialogue. Their demands were kicked again into the long grass by developed countries, with some other large powers, for whom this finance won't apply, standing quietly by. 

The enabling environment for global climate cooperation has turned hostile

So how is that dialogue going, as the world experiences an even more punishing year of extreme weather? The answer: falteringly. At the United Nations General Assembly developing countries called for changes in the way international economic governance works to support countries to build resilience before they are hit by climate impacts.

Developed countries' long-held fears of admission of liability, and an aversion to a concept of reparations, have not diminished with growing climate impacts. And the world has become more complicated: Russia's war on Ukraine has taken up bandwidth, diverted public aid and climate finance, and led to a European scramble for energy supply. Recession looms for some, and the line up of countries outside the IMF as the food, fuel, and financial crisis takes its toll, is growing.

So how can this square be circled? How can Pakistan’s plight, with just 1% of global emissions yet a third of its country underwater, its glaciers melting because of our carbon pollution profligacy, push us forward to break our deadlock on loss and damage? 

Tuvalu's finance minister Seve Paeniu shows a picture of his grandchildren at COP26 in Glasgow. (Credit: Phil Noble/Reuters) 

In the next month, countries will meet at the annual meetins of the World Bank and the IMF in Washington, D.C. and then gather in Sharm el-Sheik for the next round of climate talks. Here are five points for urgent action. 

First, it’s about liability – but it’s not.  

Concerned by implications of liability and reparations, negotiations on loss and damage and its financing have become bogged down. Nevertheless, countries are taking liability into their own hands. Eyes are on Vanuatu as it seeks an opinion from the International Court of Justice on the right to be protected from the impacts of climate change. That right would apply to current and future generations. 

There is also a wave of strategic litigation as plaintiffs seek to force governments to follow climate action plans on a pathway to 1.5C of warming – the target advised by international scientific consensus.

While some developed countries argue that humanitarian responses and adaption finance already cover loss and damage, neither is sufficient to cope with what we already see, let alone the stacking of crises as climate impacts grip every region.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, talk with a man whose family was a victim of the floods.  (Credit: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters) 

Second, it is all about solidarity.

If the concept of loss and damage is anathema in Washington D.C., Bern or Paris, we need, in the short term, to move to some solidarity-based financing mechanism. We broke it, we fix it.

Building agreement on this is urgent work between now and COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. We should be able to agree on a principle of moral responsibility to act urgently in solidarity with countries that have not contributed to emissions to date.

“Solidarity” funding can flow quickly by using many different mechanisms, from government allocations above and beyond commitments for mitigation and adaptation ‒ admittedly under pressure ‒ and international disaster funds. 

But we can also, and thirdly, get creative.

There's room for rich guys, too. We need philanthropy off the bench and on the pitch

Let’s introduce solidarity levies across a range of luxury, or high emissions intensity, activities. A dollar on business class travel and above. Taxes and levies on carbon pollution, debt for climate swaps, and fees on voluntary carbon market transactions for the buyers. And finally, a solidarity fund levy on windfall profits for the fossil fuel firms.
Sherry Rehman has noted that big polluters who have net profits “larger than the GDP of many countries need to take responsibility”. The U.N. Secretary-General has called the windfall profits of energy companies “grotesque”. In addition to paying their fair share of taxes at home, a portion of their international profits could fill the solidarity fund for loss and damage funds.

And fourthly, there's room for rich guys, too. We need philanthropy off the bench and on the pitch. The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Open Society Foundations and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation stepped up in Glasgow, seed-funding a loss and damage fund. Only 2% of global giving is going to climate. Very little is going to climate justice, and almost none of it is funding for international loss and damage. Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation and Christie Ulman of the Sequoia Climate Fund have even given philanthropists a guide on what and how to do this. 

We need an "all of the above" approach, and a system reset as loses mount. The U.N. has launched an appeal for $160 million for Pakistan, less than 2% of the estimated costs, with the flood water not yet receding. The Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been blunt.  He noted that next time this could be your country. This time we need solidarity for Pakistan. Tomorrow it could be you. This is ours to do. 

Rachel Kyte is dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She is a member of the U.N. Secretary-General’s high-level advisory group on climate action and co-chair of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI).

Main picture credit: Yasir Rajput/Reuters



This article is part of the October 2022 edition of The Sustainable Business Review. See also:

ESG Watch: Banks’ net-zero pledges in the spotlight at Climate Week New York

Policy Watch: Norway deal with Indonesia a bright spot amid deepening deforestation crisis

Brand Watch: Can blockchain help indigenous people turn the tide on deforestation

Society Watch: Energy crisis puts wind in the sails of community renewables push

PepsiCo’s biggest challenge: winning over millions of farmers to regenerative practices

COP26  flooding  heatwaves  climate change  developing countries  COP27 

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