Are you a rich country trying to dodge paying for climate damage? Here are tactics that have worked for decades

Lyndsay Walsh Climate Change, Drought, Influencing

As the Loss and Damage Collaboration launches a new report ahead of COP27, Lyndsay Walsh reveals the blocking tactics wealthy countries have used to avoid paying for climate loss and damage. But could COP27 be the moment they run out of excuses for delay?

“Diyaara” stands before a dried water hole in Wajir County, Kenya. Countries in the global south are facing devastating losses and damage from climate shocks such as drought (picture: Khadija Farah/Oxfam).

The huge injustice of Loss and Damage will loom over the upcoming UN climate conference, COP27, in Egypt. Addressing loss and damage broadly means responding to the impacts of climate change which have not been mitigated or adapted to (full explanation of the term in this blog).

Countries in the global south, least responsible for emissions and climate change yet often paying a devastating price in climate damage, have been seeking dedicated finance to respond and recover from climate impacts for over 30 years – but so far it has been fiercely resisted by the richer, polluting countries who would have to contribute towards footing the bill.

So how have rich countries managed to duck out of addressing this glaring climate injustice? Here are two big tactics to look out for as we approach COP27.

Blocking tactic 1: Make spurious arguments, such as blaming other countries

First, the delayers redirect responsibility: we know that high-income countries, individuals and the fossil fuel industry are responsible for the majority of historical emissions but rich countries try to redirect the blame to other countries, even including places experiencing climate impacts.

Second, rich countries push non-transformative solutions: to look as though they are making progress towards delivering finance, they just keep offering another chance to talk about the issue (but not to take actual action!). Additionally, they only talk about existing systems (like insurance or the humanitarian system – despite the fact that we know they do not cover the full range of loss and damage), rather than dealing with the issue that existing systems do not meet the scale nor scope required to address loss and damage.

Third, if advocates keep pushing the issue, delayers emphasise the downsides: they try to make out that Loss and Damage is less important than mitigation or adaptation, and use the argument that finance to address loss and damage would distract or take away from adaptation finance (even though, this obviously does not need to be the case).

Finally, if the above arguments do not work, they go for surrender: they simply say that it is impossible to cover the expected costs of loss and damage. Of course, this argument is tenuous as some finance is better than no finance, and the fact that the fossil fuel industry is hugely profitable makes this line of argument more difficult – but they still use it!

Blocking tactic 2: keep the issue off the agenda and other ways to derail negotiations

If these arguments are countered, then the second big way rich countries frustrate progress is by hijacking and complicating the international processes and meetings around climate change.

A simple and effective tactic is simply not to let the issue of loss and damage get on the agenda – if we can’t talk about it, then no progress can be made! Finance to address Loss and Damage is still not a permanent agenda item due to this. (UPDATE, 7 November: it has now been confirmed that “Matters relating to funding arrangements responding to #LossAndDamage” will be a sub-agenda item, under finance, at COP27. More details here)

Of course, overtly blocking loss and damage finance is not a good look, so another favoured way to frustrate progress is to conduct closed meetings that don’t have pesky observers sticking their noses in and bringing extra transparency to the process.

Delayers also try to create as much confusion as possible. We know countries want new and additional finance to address losses and damages – but blockers will always insist on discussing ‘averting and minimising’ (mitigation and adaptation) as well, to muddy discussions.

If things do escalate and text is put forward during global climate negotiations that includes finance to address loss and damage – then blockers always have the option of outright rejecting these proposals. Like they did last year, when the idea of a finance facility was put forward by the largest negotiating bloc of developing countries. Instead, blockers managed to get the Glasgow Dialogue. Not due to finish until mid-2024, this means three potentially empty dialogues where they get to roll out all of their finely crafted delay arguments, with no mandated outcome at the end. A successful delay tactic!

But rich countries are running out of excuses…

But could COP27 be the moment this all changes? The above delay tactics have served blockers pretty well for the past 30 years (yes, it really has been that long since climate-vulnerable countries first put forward the idea of Loss and Damage finance!).  However, it is becoming pretty clear that they cannot hold out much longer. With the IPCC (the gold standard in climate science) stating in pretty uncertain terms that “climate change has already caused losses and that even with rapid emissions cuts and effective adaptation there will still be losses and damages”, their arguments are flimsier than ever.

More people are shining a light on an issue which rich, industrialised countries would rather keep hidden away – over 100,000 people (and counting) have signed on in solidarity with the climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti in calling for loss and damage finance. Evidence on the topic is mounting, through papers, videos and campaigns. The calls are getting louder and the arguments for why it is needed are becoming impossible to deny.

At COP27, it’s time the delayers finally faced up to their responsibility and agreed to the finance desperately needed to pay for loss and damage. They are running out of excuses to delay this essential step towards climate justice – and people are running out of time.


Lyndsay Walsh

Lyndsay Walsh is a climate policy adviser at Oxfam GB

Want to find out more? Read the Loss and Damage Collaboration’s report The Cost of Delay, co-authored by Lyndsay, which also sets out how to rebut the arguments used by blocking countries.

Thank you to the Climate Development Lab who produced a field guide on tactics used in the negotiations which covers this matter comprehensively and served as inspiration for this blog.