Our Burning Planet


Climate change compensation fight brews ahead of COP27 summit

Climate change compensation fight brews ahead of COP27 summit
People wade though an inundated road in southern Seoul, South Korea, on 8 August 2022 as heavy rainfall of over 100mm per hour, the heaviest in 80 years, battered Seoul and surrounding areas. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yon Hap)

The climate crisis is being felt and dealt with in various ways worldwide. In these climate shorts, we aim to give a round-up of the latest developments and news from across the globe.

Tensions are mounting ahead of this year’s UN climate summit, as vulnerable countries ramp up demands for rich countries to pay compensation for losses inflicted on the world’s poorest people by climate change.

When diplomats from nearly 200 countries meet on 7 November in the beachside resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, negotiations will tackle how to cut the CO2 emissions causing climate change and cope with existing climate impacts, including deadly heatwaves, wildfires, rising seas and drought.

But another issue is likely to dominate the talks: “loss and damage”, or climate-related destruction to homes, infrastructure and livelihoods in the poorest countries that have contributed least to global warming.

The world’s 46 least developed countries, home to 14% of the global population, produce just 1% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the UN.

As COP27 approaches, climate losses are surging — in rich and poor countries alike. In recent weeks, wildfires have swallowed huge swathes of land in Morocco, Greece and Canada; drought has ravaged Italy’s vineyards and fatal floods hit Gambia and China.

“That’s been the critical juncture. We’ve been affected and talked about it for a long time. But now rich countries are being affected as well,” said Saleemul Huq, an adviser to the Climate Vulnerable Forum group of 55 countries.

Wealthy countries also failed to deliver a promise for $100-billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries lower emissions and prepare for climate change. Read the full story here.

Loss and damage payments would be in addition to that $100-billion.

“It’s not ambiguous. Finance means money. It means put your hand in your pocket and bring out a dollar, a euro, a yen and put it on the table for the victims of climate change,” Huq said.

Just getting loss and damage finance into the COP27 discussion is proving contentious, as a proposal to add it to the agenda has not yet won broad support.

The issue was also not added to pre-COP27 talks in June in Bonn, Germany. Talks there on UN technical assistance on accounting for loss and damage also ended without agreement, due to disputes over how that scheme should be governed.

COP27 will be no easier, as rich countries arrive with purse strings tightened by soaring energy costs, the economic fallout of the Ukraine war and the pandemic, which prompted wealthy countries to spend trillions of dollars propping up their economies.

Historically, rich economies including the United States and the 27-country European Union have resisted steps that could assign legal liability or lead to compensation.

Negotiators at last year’s COP26 summit agreed to launch a two-year dialogue on loss and damage, but stopped short of setting up an actual fund.

Putting the topic on the COP27 agenda could open up discussions on where the money would come from and how it would be distributed, or even how to define climate-induced losses. Some research suggests such losses could reach $580-billion a year by 2030. — Reuters

Ocean warmth, seaweed scarcity threaten Fiji fisherwomens’ livelihoods

Karen Vusisa has been struggling to find a decent catch of a favourite Fijian edible seaweed, amid concerns that ocean temperatures have hit harvests and are threatening the livelihoods of fisherwomen like her.

Like many others, Vusisa, 52, is managing to collect only about half as much of the seaweed, nama, as she once did. She must hunt for it over wider areas, spending more time at sea.

“We are struggling to find some spot for a lot of nama,” Sera Baleisasa, another Fijian fisherwoman, told Reuters.

Nama, found mostly in the waters off Fiji, resembles small green grapes. It is part of the Pacific island nation’s daily diet and is usually served soaked in coconut milk and added to salads.

It is also crucial for the livelihoods of hundreds of fisherwomen, who earn about $10 to $20 for a bag weighing 10kg.

When harvesting, they leave the seaweed’s roots intact to help with regrowth, then move on to collect at a regenerated patch. But for the past several years, they say, nama has been taking longer to grow back.

Marine biologist Alani Tuivucilevu blames warmer oceans for impairing the growth of nama, which she says is “very sensitive to heat”.

“It’s saddening, really… it’s saddening because this has been their way of life,” said Tuivucilevu, who works with research group Women in Fisheries Network Fiji.

“Depletion of nama supply means eroding a way of life and, to a certain degree, culture and traditions.”

Reports by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that 2021 was the warmest year for the world’s oceans since records began in the late 1800s.

Climate scientists have been warning that Pacific island countries are more vulnerable to climate change due to their reliance on the ocean for resources. — Reuters

China’s cities face tough choice: More green energy or food

China’s plans to accelerate its world-leading expansion of solar and wind power are facing a major hurdle as floods, droughts and food-supply issues present authorities with a reality check about how much precious farmland the nation can afford to lose.

Solar and wind farms have been supercharged in the past two years since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a 2060 target for the nation to be carbon neutral, creating an incentive for local governments to allow more large-scale renewable energy projects.

But the pandemic and recent bouts of extreme weather have shown how susceptible the nation is to disruptions in food supply.

Good arable land is relatively limited, considering the appetite of the nation’s 1.4 billion people, and large tracts of some of the most fertile soil in the heavily populated eastern and central provinces have already been swallowed up by urban growth. With administrations now prioritising environmental protection and food security, plans to build big, new solar projects are coming under increasing scrutiny.

China is already the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, with the capacity to generate some 679 gigawatts of wind and solar power, plus another 390 gigawatts of hydropower. More than a fifth of the solar and wind capacity has been added since 2020, and expansion plans by local governments would carry the nation to its 2030 target of 1,200 gigawatts more than five years early if fully implemented.

But in May, the Ministry of Water Resources issued a rule that bans solar and wind projects on some waterways, lakes and reservoirs as part of measures to protect the environment and prevent over-development that could disrupt flood control.

A separate draft regulation is under consideration by three government agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, that would prohibit new solar projects from cultivated land or forests.

Some local authorities are already clamping down on over-development. In Jiangsu Province, a one gigawatt floating solar plant that covered 70% of a major lake was partially dismantled this year after local authorities said it was “illegally constructed”.

The shift in priorities has put some provincial governments — especially those in the highly urbanised east — in a bind. While they’ve been tasked with decarbonising rapidly under China’s national climate pledge, they also face a central government “red line” to protect farmland. — Bloomberg DM/OBP

Worst Seoul storm in 80 years kills eight, floods capital

At least eight people were killed and six people were missing after one of the heaviest rain storms in 80 years hit Seoul, flooding streets and subway stations and causing blackouts.

President Yoon Suk Yeol convened an emergency meeting at the country’s National Disaster and Safety Status Control Center after the storm dumped as much as 141mm of water an hour in parts of South Korea’s capital. Three of the eight victims drowned as their basement apartment filled with water, Yonhap News Agency reported. Local television showed drivers abandoning their cars in the upscale Gangnam district and residents wading in knee-high waters.

Another 300-350mm of rain is forecast to fall through to Thursday, the Meteorological Administration said, adding to risks of more flooding.

“I urge authorities to implement all-out measures until the situation comes to an end, to protect the lives and property of the people,” Yoon said. He said the government should revamp its disaster management, taking into account the effect of climate change.

“The torrential rain is believed to be from the abnormal weather caused by climate change, with the amount of rainfall per hour breaking the record high in the history of meteorological observation in our nation,” he said.

Unusually heavy rainfall and extreme heat waves have hit many parts of the world this year, killing thousands and displacing millions. The US Environmental Protection Agency says global warming is contributing to heavier rainfall, with warmer air allowing for more dense storm clouds which in turn produce more rain.

The torrential rains that started on Monday and continued into Tuesday also caused flooding in parts of the city centre, turning some parking lots into ponds. Train and subway services were suspended on several lines, while numerous businesses asked their employees to work from home.

The hourly rainfall figures were the highest since a storm in 1942, Yonhap News Agency reported. Some areas of Seoul received more rain in one day than typically seen in an entire month in the summer, according to data from South Korea’s weather agency.

At least 163 people lost their homes and 751 buildings were flooded, the interior ministry said, adding that at least 11 ministries were involved in the government’s response to minimise the damage. Nearly 4,800 car owners had claimed for damages due to flooded or damaged cars on Monday and Tuesday, with the total compensation estimated to be around 65.8 billion won, according to General Insurance Association of Korea.

South Korea will discharge waters on Wednesday from Soyang Dam, the largest dam with 2.9 billion tons of water-holding capacity, for the first time in two years. It would be the 17th discharge since the dam was built in 1973, according to the Korea Water Resources Corporation.

Parts of neighbouring Japan were hit by torrential rains this week that triggered landslides and caused dozen of rivers to overflow their banks. Parts of the country were under storm surge advisories on Tuesday. North Korea has also been hit by heavy rain that threatens farms and forests, its official media said.

While some weather analysts said it was too early to say whether the latest storm was a result of climate change, others said the global trend was no coincidence.

“South Korea’s regular monsoon season usually begins late June and lasts through end of July. The monsoon is back in August and climate change is the only explanation to such torrential rainfall,” said Ban Ki-Song, forecast centre head of Kweather, a private forecasting centre based in Seoul. — Bloomberg

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  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Am I missing something here. How many climate change emissions will result in delegations from 200 countries, flying from all over the world to Egypt. Surely in this modern world of IT technology and communication this can be done without even getting into a car.
    Then the compensation issue. I believe any monetary form of compensation stands a reasonable chance of being misappropriated if given to developing countries. Certainly if any of it came to South Africa. Fortunately I don’t think South Africa would qualify though.

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