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Climate Reparations: What Must COP27 Deliver?

Posted on 18/01/2023
By Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth’s small and climate vulnerable states are being lost to the world’s oceans at alarming speed. Extreme weather events are destroying small island infrastructure, upending local livelihoods, and overwhelming public finances.

Despite the urgency of the situation, commitments to help small island and vulnerable states stand largely unfulfilled. The next major global climate conference in Egypt (COP27) presents an important opportunity to refocus the global conversation on the needs of small island states, and our three part-series: The Case for Climate Justice: Commonwealth Small Island States is doing just that.

The loss and damage negotiations under the UNFCCC have so far failed to deliver the climate finance that small and climate-vulnerable states so desperately need. Combating climate change on the ‘front lines’ requires vast sums of money and advanced technology—something that the wider international community has promised yet hasn’t delivered.

The Loss and Damage Collaboration (LDC) highlights key issues that need to be addressed at COP27 based on previous discussions at UN climate conferences.

One such issue is the failure of ‘The Santiago Network’ to get off the ground. The network is intended to help small and vulnerable states ‘avert, minimise, and address loss and damage’ through the provision of technical assistance yet, to this day, no decision has been taken on which international body should oversee its operations, and thus no secretariat has been established to carry out this vital work. The LDC emphasises that COP27 must advance discussions on the structure of the Santiago Network so it can start to act. The LDC also asks that Loss and Damage Finance Facility is operationalised so it can finally dispense funds to countries contending with the worst effects of climate change.

If the central UN processes at COP27 fail to deliver the necessary support for small and vulnerable states, there are alternatives paths to change that speakers at our next Critical Conversation will consider. In October last year, the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) was established by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, and Tuvalu and with the determined support of a group of leading international lawyers.

COSIS’s main task is to seek Advisory Opinions from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which could in turn support their legal claims to climate compensation. Such a task won’t be easy: the ITLOS has only ever produced two advisory opinions in its history. But if greater numbers of small island states join COSIS, their combined resources will make a favourable outcome more likely.

There is another important pathway to change being discussed in our Critical Conversation. Within the next month, the UN General Assembly will vote on whether the International Court of Justice can consider a landmark climate change case. This vote, which is being brought to the General Assembly by Vanuatu, marks a new frontier in the struggle to protect the planet and its people. Whatever way it goes, the vote will have far-reaching implications for climate change litigation and international disputes on climate harm.

These developments could shape the terms of the climate debate at COP27 and beyond. No path forward will be viable without the multitude of civil society actors—whether Lawyers, negotiators or policy experts—coming together in dialogue to chart a path forward. And that’s exactly what next Tuesday’s Critical Conversation is all about.