Climate 'Loss and Damage' Fund: Sherry Rehman The Global Hero

Climate 'Loss and Damage' Fund: Sherry Rehman The Global Hero
For nearly 30 years, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) delineated "loss and damage" from climate impacts without any mechanism for repairing such damages through financial support. Even the phrase "loss and damage" remained a watered-down characterization for the liability of developed countries in terms of exacerbating climatic uncertainty, and the demand of developing and underdeveloped countries to be compensated for severe impacts of climate change. As the entire world deals with the horrifying effects of unanticipated shifts in global climate, the 27th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP27) at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt was able to shed its uneasiness with climate "reparations", and participating countries came together to affirm that climate justice is no longer an abstraction, but a necessity.

Pakistan experienced catastrophic floods in August this year, and parts of the country are still reeling from the aftershocks of this devastating crisis. While Pakistan did receive modest support from the international community to recover from these floods, the fact remains that climate change does not respect national borders or the divisions we have within the human race. But few expected Pakistani negotiators to successfully spearhead the cause of the G77 and vulnerable countries at COP27, or to convince important participants like the US and EU to acquiesce to a financial compensation framework for those worst affected by climate change.

Such minimal expectations obviously did not account for the diplomatic skills and negotiating prowess of Senator Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's minister for climate change. A former ambassador to the US, Rehman is among the few female politicians who have the credentials and werewithal to effectively represent Pakistan on the international stage. And she fully understands the nuances of diplomatic niceties, without compromising on the achievement of substantive, meaningful resolutions to matters under negotiation.

At the start of COP27, Sherry Rehman enunciated Pakistan's position as keeping loss and damage, and adapting to climate catastrophies, at the core of its negotiations. This resolve, and Pakistan's presidency of the G77-plus-China bloc, kept developing countries united in the face of pressure from other, much richer nations. Pakistan successfully tabled the contested idea of "loss and damage" on the COP27 agenda at the start of the conference: it was not even up for discussion until Pakistan and other developing countries insisted that it be the central focus of COP27. To assuage the concerns of those who had always opposed this idea, Senator Sherry Rehman clarified Pakistan’s diplomatic position as seeking to navigate an equitable burden sharing arrangement as a bargain between the Global North and South. A central point of contention, especially for developed countries, was liability: who would pay for the losses and damages incurred by climate change?

As Nabeel Munir, Pakistan's lead negotiator, reminded the world that loss and damage was about climate justice and not charity, Senator Sherry Rehman worked tirelessly to nurture, consolidate and maintain international consensus on the issue. This meant spending 14 hours a day convincing rich countries to live up to their moral responsibilities, all the while accommodating the positions and compulsions of developing countries and those most vulnerable to climate change.

But Sherry Rehman is not one to entertain any delusions of grandeur; she admitted that the limitations of the COP format require participants to be careful about the words they use, and to secure any incremental progress that all parties can agree to. And progress would have been impossible without frequent reminders of the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change. "This is no longer about saving our future; it’s a battle to save our present", Senator Sherry Rehman said at a panel discussion on carbon neutrality at Sharm El-Sheikh, adding "it is also about saving the land we stand on, and what we expect to build and grow on". In these dire conditions that humanity is faced with, Senator Rehman urged developed countries to exhibit political will for climate justice by at least announcing their intent to establish a "loss and damage" fund.

"Vulnerability should not become a death sentence", Sherry Rehman said, reminding the world that "what went on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan… that dystopia that came to our doorstep will come to everyone".

But Pakistan's stance was not all doom and despair. Sherry Rehman also said that the establishment of a "loss and damage" fund would be "a historic reminder to vulnerable people all over the world that they have a voice and that if they unite". "We can actually start breaking down barriers that we thought were impossible", she added to encourage COP27 participants towards this idealistic goal.

As the COP27 came to an end, an historic agreement was reached in principle to set up the "loss and damage" fund to compensate poor countries adversely affected by climate change. The framework of the fund does not make rich countries liable, but gives emphasis to "identifying and expanding sources of funding", including from international financial institutions. Senator Sherry Rehman welcomed the establishment of the fund as "an important first step in reaffirming the core principles of climate justice" while urging that the fund be quickly operationalized and become a robust body to alleviate the pain felt by countries most vulnerable to climate change.

This milestone achievement was universally hailed at the conclusion of COP27. G77 member countries and observer organisations acknowledged that it would not have been possible without Pakistan's leadership at the conference. It has given vulnerable countries hope, and has also given a tangible, financial shape to developed countries' virtue signalling on climate change. As this crucial first step towards climate justice has been taken, it is now important for all countries to come together for the sake of humanity and proactively collaborate to mitigate the most harmful impacts of climate change. Senator Sherry Rehman is one of the few global leaders who can continue to pave the way towards transforming climate justice into a reality for us all.

Shemrez is a researcher and academic specialising in public policy, economic security, and the political economy of terrorism, extremism and identity.