Egypt’s vast coral reef system, charismatic orange and white striped clownfish, blue, purple and pink corals and underwater structures generate $7 billion (£6.15bn) in tourism revenue a year – more than any other country in the world.
If the planet warms by 2.5C – a rough estimate – more than a tenth of Egypt’s coral cover will disappear, unable to cope with more carbon-packed tropical seas. And the World Ocean Panel initiative predicts that 40% of the reef’s revenue will come from it.
Coral reefs cannot easily adapt to climate change, nor are thousands of people dependent on them for food and work.
Meanwhile, sea levels on northern Egypt’s Mediterranean coast are rising, hitting cities like Alexandria and salt poisoning the land in the fertile Nile Delta.
“A lot of people are losing their livelihoods there. It’s also affecting agriculture,” said Ambassador Mohamed Nasser, Egypt’s lead climate negotiator.
Such losses and damages beyond human adaptation cause huge economic and social losses.
The demand for compensation has long dogged UN climate talks, but this year the most angry developing countries are hoping it will take a big step. The upcoming United Nations climate negotiations COP27 in Egypt.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the case a “litmus test” of how seriously governments are taking the increasing climate risks in the most vulnerable countries. Developing countries say success at COP27 will not be possible without new and additional funding.
A terrible flood in Pakistan This summer, the debate about who should pay for climate disasters has reignited. The floods not only killed 1,700 people and displaced 33 million more, but also caused $10bn (£8.54bn) in damage.
But Pakistan Climate change has contributed very little to the worsening destruction, and most developing countries are not suffering the worst.
“People are losing their homes. People are losing their livelihoods. Coasts are sinking, islands are being swallowed up and ultimately history is being destroyed,” campaigner Vanessa Nakate told Sky News.
According to an analysis of 173 countries by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the developing countries most at risk of such losses are Burundi, Somalia and Mozambique, which are some of the world’s lowest emitters, while the lowest risk developing countries are Luxembourg, Switzerland and Ireland.
“Our contribution to climate change is not insignificant, but we have suffered the first and worst impacts of its impacts. And each impact exacerbates existing development challenges,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, head of climate change at Senegal’s Ministry of Environment.
For years, developed countries have acknowledged and resisted the need for reparations.
Concerns about “what conditions are wrapped up in terms of reparations, slavery is a major US issue,” IIED member Claire Shakia told reporters in October.
The concept of ‘finance’ for loss and damage
Mrs. Diouf Sarr said that developed countries can easily adapt to climate disasters such as drought, sea level rise, floods and so on.
“We will adjust, but not well,” added Ms. Diouf Sarr, who is leading the negotiating team of 46 least developed countries at COP27 this year. “This can no longer be ignored, and we are seeing increasing interest across the board to engage in the issue.”
The idea that the concept of “financing” for loss and damage could make it to the official agenda for the first time at the UN COP conference is considered somewhat of a coup.
Previously, vague terms like “mechanism” or “facility” ended up on the agenda in the war.
Climate damage ‘too intense, too real, for many countries’
Africa, small islands and vulnerable countries have been pushing the issue for years.
The idea of reparations gathered a lot of attention at COP26, with the agreement to establish a “dialogue” – hailed as a success but not the talk of developing countries that want to deal with money.
“Leaders say they need more time to discuss and see what they can do. But a starving child in Turkana… there is no time for more discussion,” said Vanessa Nakate.
And now the climate damage is “so intense and so real for so many countries that they realize it’s a big deal and there’s more transparency,” Ms. Shakya said.
This year Europe has experienced its worst wildfires ever due to a severe drought, with some crops in England expected to fail in half after the extreme heat.
Nearly 600 people died in floods in Nigeria, and Hurricane Ian destroyed citrus and watermelon crops, vegetables and livestock in Florida, costing $1.5bn (£1.3bn).
In September, Denmark became the first country to pledge adequate compensation for climate damage, pledging 100 million Danish kroner (£11.7m).
The figure is not even a drop in the ocean, but one that prevents rich countries from even acknowledging the need for financial compensation.
Still troubled by climate change at home, Pakistan is also chairing the 77-nation G77 negotiating group this year, which means the alliance can take a stronger stance.
Developing countries hope Egypt’s hosting of the COP will help broaden the debate. Egypt certainly thinks it can.
Ambassador Nasser said, “I think we will be able to provide a means of financial assistance, which should be decided in a certain period of time.”
‘The general regime in question’.
But the challenge is not only determining financial loss and damages, but also how. Should it be provided through the COP process, through multilateral development banks or through new initiatives, and through taxes, windfalls or insurance or loans?
The cold truth is that the more rich countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions — and they’re already lagging behind — the worse the climate damage gets, the more calls for reparations, even from their own citizens.
COP negotiations are based on international cooperation and trust, and countries must bring something to the table if they expect others to do the same.
Developed countries have lost their pledge to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.
But the money is essential to grease the wheels of negotiations and encourage developing countries to take action on climate. The Global North is so polluted by them that they are asked to pass up their own industrial revolution opportunities. That needs money.
Mr Nasser added: “Finance has always played a role in building trust.
“If we lose on financing, this whole regime will be called into question.”