What’s in a word? – Climate Weekly

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Protesters at Cop27 call for reparations for loss of livelihoods and damage to nature (Photo credit: UN Cilimate Change)


In the world of climate diplomacy, words matter a lot. Negotiations have hinged on “shall” vs “should”, “phase out” vs “phase down”, “green” vs “low-carbon”.

And they matter in domestic politics too, as we found out when a hostile Republican Congressman asked US climate envoy John Kerry yesterday if he was “planning to commit America to climate reparations”.

Before the Republican could finish his sentence, Kerry had shot back “no, definitely not” and asked him to put an exclamation mark beside the answer.

That pleased the Trumpian congressman from Florida but it angered many climate campaigners, after it was reported in some quarters as a refusal to pay into the new loss and damage fund, which the US had reluctantly agreed not to block at Cop27.

But that’s not how it was interpreted by Avinash Persaud, Barbados’s representative on the loss and damage transitional committee, and the veteran, Washington-literate climate campaigner Alden Meyer.

The word “reparations” implies liability and links climate rhetorically to slavery, Meyer said. It was a political trap that Kerry’s been around long enough not to fall into.

A friendly Democrat later asked Kerry about his goals for Cop28 and one of them was the creation of a loss and damage fund.

But historically, the US has been the main blocker not just of “climate reparations” but of loss and damage – and nobody has been more personally associated with that than John Kerry.

Whether it’s now the word he objects to or the principle, we’ll find out when the time comes for rich governments to make their loss and damage pledges, which campaigners are calling for at Cop28.

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And domestic politics impinges on climate finance north of the US border too. Announcing an allocation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) on Wednesday, Canada’s climate minister came close to doing what all rich country climate ministers must long to do: blame their finance minister for an underwhelming climate finance pledge.

After announcing the US$340m over four years pledge, former Greenpeace activist Steven Guilbeault said: “Would I like Canada to put even more money on the table? I’m the environment and climate change minister, not the finance minister unfortunately. But I think we can always do better”.

Still, the GCF had a busy week approving millions of dollars in new climate change projects and gavelled a new 2024-2027 strategy.

But that didn’t kept the fund from making some controversial decisions. The GCF also approved a $190 million project for a Dutch investment fund with a history of financing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The project “is paying the polluters instead of having them pay,” one campaigner said.

Read more on: Climate finance | Loss and damage | |