The COP27 climate conference, in Egypt, was in large part a global search for cash…
You can imagine the tension—the anger—that comes from watching your part of the world dry up or flood, knowing that the countries whose pollution caused your problems also have enough dollars to repair the damage. The moral argument couldn’t be more straightforward: Americans have produced almost a quarter of the excess carbon in the atmosphere; a quarter of the damage should be on our tab. And yet we have not yet started to pay it, not in any straightforward way: Congress won’t spend tax dollars on reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans; they’re even more unlikely to do it for survivors of the climate crisis in Africa or Asia. At least, not in sums remotely equal to the damage: at cop27, a handful of the usual countries (think Denmark) pledged climate-relief aid on the order of about seventy-five million dollars, with an “M.” The initial estimate of the damage from Pakistan’s wild summer of flooding, by contrast, is about forty billion dollars, with a “B.”
…as the conference came to a close, negotiators, including those from the U.S., tentatively agreed to a concrete step in the right direction—the formation of a loss-and-damage fund within the next year, albeit without any details on who will fund it or how much that funding will amount to. There’s also an insurance scheme—Global Shield, its backers are calling it—that might offer relief in the aftermath of crises. These steps will not produce forty billion dollars when a country like Pakistan floods, at least not anytime soon, nor will they repair the grinding, slow-motion crises—desertification, drought, sea-level rise—that pose some of the worst risks on an overheating planet. But they are evidence of how hard the Global South is pushing, and how unimpeachably just their demands are.
cop27 is one more reminder, however, that justice only proceeds, fitfully, through politics. Rebalancing the world’s wealth, even a little, is the trickiest of political tasks. Yet our chances for a livable world may depend on it.