• Environmental Law and Regulation Society

COP27 - Climate change: who is paying?

Written by Garance Picant

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


COP27 opened on Sunday 6 November 2022 at Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt). The 2022 United Nation Climate Change Conference is therefore African, and emerging countries have planned to have their voice heard when it comes to environmental justice and the cost of climate change. According to the latest report of the IPCC (1), Africa is indeed the most vulnerable continent as more than 100 African countries will be deeply affected by climate change by 2030 (2). Yet, African countries are among the least carbon emitting in the world (3). This is hardly fair, isn’t it?

I) What are loss and damages? And why are Southern countries claiming them?

Precisely because the situation is hardly fair, world leaders decided to act on it at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen in 2009 (4). Thirteen years ago, Northern nations made an ambitious promise. They pledged to collect USD$100 billion per year for Southern nations to help them adapt to the effects of climate change and prevent the world’s temperature from rising even further. However, reality happens to be quite different from the beautiful promise. By 2022, the financing amounted to only USD$87 billion (5).

Because of this failure, Southern countries are now trying to push Northern countries to pay ‘loss and damages’. But what does it mean?

‘Loss and damages’ refers to the irreversible economic and non-economic loss suffered by the Southern nations because of global warming and climate change (extreme weather conditions, floods, hurricane, etc.). The aim of a loss and damages claim is to hold the biggest fossil-fuel polluters accountable for the damages they have caused in Southern countries.

And yet, for a very long time, Northern countries have refused such a mechanism. Acknowledging their responsibility could indeed have broader legal consequences than simply having to pay for loss and damages.

In the background of the claim for loss and damages, there is indeed the idea of a ‘climate justice’. Climate justice follows the idea that climate change is not only an environmental catastrophe, but also a violation of human rights for the individuals directly affected by it (6). Following this logic, Northern countries have violated human rights in Southern countries and they should pay for it.

From a more pragmatic point of view, global warming cannot be stopped without the help of Southern countries. Europeans might stop taking the plane, go zero waste, and try to transition toward renewable energy sources; this alone will not bring us under the aimed 2°C (7) if the other half of the world is left behind. On this topic, the European council on Foreign relations wrote: ‘the lack of trust between the global north and south is a major obstacle to progress’ (8).

II) Why talk about loss and damages at COP27?

The Egyptian Minister for foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukry opened COP27 by reminding that Southern countries need the support of Northern countries to overcome the climate change challenge. As expected, the debate about loss and damages followed during the summit. But why is the claim for loss and damages the current hot potato?

Firstly, as explained previously, some Southern countries have started to severely suffer from global warming. The island nations are the typical example: they are literally drowning. Additional funding could help them to prevent the impending catastrophe.

Secondly, it is not the first time that Southern countries are making this claim. Last year, a coalition of countries jeopardized by climate change made the same claim during the COP26 summit in Glasgow. However, in the end, all references to loss and damages were removed from the Glasgow pact. COP27 gives a new shot to those Southern nations to make their voice heard (9).

Thirdly, the topic of loss and damages is still the subject of debates. Who is for it and who is against it? Logically, Southern developing countries are in majority for loss and damages as lots of them already suffer from climate change and do not have the means to fight it. On the other hand, Northern and richer nations are generally against it (with the exception of Denmark who already promised to pay a consequent amount to developing countries for climate loss) (10).


While loss and damages came back on the table of international climate negotiation, it is not certain that Southern nations will get their claim. However, it does not mean that developing countries are left to fend on their own. As underlined precedently, it would be unrealistic to think of fighting climate change without including Southern nations.

The idea of climate justice might not be accepted by all yet, but pragmatically speaking, Southern nations do need money to fight and adapt to climate change. President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, has therefore urged other Northern nations, especially the United-States and China, to follow the EU's example of committing to climate financing to the global South (the engagement that Northern nations took in Copenhagen back in 2009) (11).

In a nutshell, it is not certain that the time for loss and damages has already come. However, more and more Northern nations seem finally ready to honor their 2009 promise. Better late than never?


  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/download/

  2. https://www.afrik21.africa/en/cop27-facing-the-climate-emergency-decision-makers-meet-on-7-november/

  3. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions

  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02846-3

  5. https://nouveau-europresse-com.docelec-u-paris2.idm.oclc.org/Document/View?viewEvent=1&docRefId=0&docName=news%C2%B720221104%C2%B7LC%C2%B7o4lx-1595499&docIndex=3

  6. Elizabeth Cripps (2022) What climate justice means and why we should care, Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

  7. United Nations / Framework Convention on Climate Change [2015] Adoption of the Paris Agreement, 21st Conference of the Parties, Paris: United Nations.

  8. https://ecfr.eu/publication/well-always-have-paris-how-to-adapt-multilateral-climate-cooperation-to-new-realities/

  9. https://oecd-development-matters.org/2022/01/25/why-cop26-failed-to-address-loss-and-damage-from-climate-change/

  10. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/05/climate-loss-and-damage-why-its-such-a-big-deal-at-cop27

  11. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2022/nov/08/cop27-un-climate-conference-day-two-crisis-live?page=with:block-636a4eff8f08f43127befc9f#block-636a4eff8f08f43127befc9f see also: https://www.lemonde.fr/en/environment/article/2022/11/07/macron-urges-us-and-china-to-pay-fair-share-to-tackle-climate-change_6003217_114.html


Recent Posts

See All

The USA’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022: The Environmental Gains and Concessions Written by: Kaylene Leong October 31, 2022 The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 was recently signed into law by