Climate summit agrees to 'historic' loss-and-damage fund — but misses warming goals

Climate activists protest in front of International Convention Center at the UN climate summit COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Nov. 19.
Climate activists protest in front of International Convention Center at the UN climate summit COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Nov. 19. (Image credit: Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) concluded Sunday (Nov. 20) with a last-minute agreement on "loss and damage" funding for developing nations suffering climate impacts. Critics argue that the annual meeting made little progress on goals to limit warming, however.

More than 35,000 delegates from around the world, including U.S. President Joe Biden, gathered for the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which was originally set to run from Nov. 6 to Nov. 18. However, negotiations lasted until Nov. 20, as delegates hammered out the agreement on paying for loss and damage caused by climate change. 

The deal sets up a fund to aid developing nations experiencing the worst effects of climate change — such as exacerbated flooding, fires and storms — while having contributed little to climate emissions, Vox (opens in new tab) reported. Developed countries, which have contributed much more to climate change, will fund those payments. (For example, the U.S. is responsible for 20% of historical emissions, CarbonBrief (opens in new tab) reported.)

COP convenes the 197 nations that agreed to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The U.N. organizes the meetings annually to make decisions on climate change.

Related: Global CO2 emissions are cooking the planet and 'show no sign of decreasing,' report warns

"We reached a turning point in the climate negotiations on loss and damage," Yamide Dagnet (opens in new tab), director for climate justice at the Open Society Foundations, a grantmaking network that funds work in justice, democratic governance and human rights, said in a statement. "After 30 contentious years, delayed tactics by wealthy countries, a renewed spirit of solidarity, empathy and cooperation prevailed, resulting in the historic establishment of a dedicated fund." 

The deal leaves several contentious questions unanswered, however, including which countries will pay and be eligible for compensation, Matt McDonald (opens in new tab), an associate professor of international relations at The University of Queensland, Australia, wrote in The Conversation (opens in new tab).

Meanwhile, ambitions to set stricter limits on emissions and eliminate use of fossil fuels came up short, the BBC (opens in new tab) reported. Last year's COP26 (opens in new tab), held in Glasgow, Scotland, called on nations to "revisit and strengthen" emissions-cutting plans to limit global temperature increase to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels. That threshold matches a key goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement and would limit risk of the most catastrophic climate impacts, scientists have said.

However, this year's meeting rejected an Indian proposal to phase down use of all fossil fuels and a European Union call to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, Grist (opens in new tab) reported. The final agreement repeats the COP26 goal of "accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies," but does not move beyond it to call for "the outright end of coal, oil and natural gas burning as activists and some delegates demanded," Vox (opens in new tab) reported. 

Climate experts criticized the outcome.

"By agreeing on a fund without details and the 1.5-C target remaining without the commitment to phase-out fossil fuels, we technically accept to pay for future damages rather than avoiding them," Sven Teske (opens in new tab), research director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, said in a statement. "The climate negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh are a real disappointment."

Other successes occurred outside official COP talks, however, including an agreement among Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia — which contain the world's largest rainforests — to cooperate on forest preservation, Grist (opens in new tab) reported. Brazil's newly elected leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also vowed to host COP30 in the Amazon region. His predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, had refused to host COP in 2019 and "presided over mounting destruction of the rainforest," Reuters (opens in new tab) reported.

Additionally, the U.S. and other wealthier nations agreed to financially aid Indonesia's move away from coal, and 50 countries revealed or were developing plans to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, Grist reported. 

Michael Dhar
Live Science Contributor

Michael Dhar is a science editor and writer based in Chicago. He has an MS in bioinformatics from NYU Tandon School of Engineering, an MA in English literature from Columbia University and a BA in English from the University of Iowa. He has written about health and science for Live Science, Scientific American, Space.com, The Fix, Earth.com and others and has edited for the American Medical Association and other organizations.