Climate reparations can curb Middle East instability, rich nations told

Scientist who linked Libya and Syria disasters to global warming calls for broad loss and damage fund

Recent floods in Derna, Libya, were made up to 50 times more likely due to climate change, scientist Dr Friederike Otto said. Getty Images
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Wealthy nations should treat covering the cost of climate change as a way of preventing fresh instability in countries such as Libya and Syria, a leading scientist has urged.

Dr Friederike Otto, whose research has attributed Middle East disasters to global warming, said funding should be available for all poorer countries and not just those most exposed to climate risks.

The terms of a loss and damage fund to meet the costs of climate disasters are a matter of intense negotiations that will stretch into the Cop28 summit in the UAE.

A partial agreement was reached this month after debates over who should pay into a loss and damage pot, who should be able to draw from it and under what circumstances.

While rich countries have lobbied to limit the scope of the fund, Dr Otto, a co-founder of the World Weather Attribution project, said they should view loss and damage payments as a necessity.

“This year, there have been many extreme weather events happening around the world. For example, there was extremely heavy flooding in Libya that was made up to 50 times more likely because of climate change,” she told a briefing at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

“There has been a three-year drought in Syria that would not even have been a drought if it wasn’t for climate change. These are events that happened in parts of the world that are very unstable and where the impact of climate change will lead to more inequality, to destabilising societies even more.”

Paying into the fund “is not a charitable action from the global north, but it’s actually a necessity to stop destabilising societies globally even more,” she said.

Millions of people have been displaced by drought in Syria as climate change compounds the effects of war. The attribution experts said last week that the dry conditions were worsened by global warming.

September’s floods in Libya inundated about a quarter of the city of Derna, killing thousands of people after torrential rain caused two dams to collapse. Humanitarian agencies asked for $71.4 million to meet the most urgent needs.

Asked by The National about the scope of the loss and damage fund, Dr Otto suggested scientists on the UN’s top climate panel (the IPCC) could be asked to draw up criteria.

Diplomats from wealthy countries have argued that the fund should focus on the most endangered nations, amid resistance in some quarters to what are sometimes dubbed “climate reparations”.

Talks have also heard calls for developing countries to be able to distribute the money between themselves. A further question is about what kinds of natural disaster qualify for funding and whether a climate link must be proved.

“You absolutely cannot have a loss and damage fund that requires you, every time, to have to first do some calculations,” said Dr Otto, who said this would be difficult in poorer countries with fewer weather stations.

“We have physical understanding, we have a lot of studies from lots of the parts of the world. You could say before anything is paid, these are the kind of events that are in scope and would allow you to trigger it.”

She said diplomats had not yet “dared to touch” the question of whether unstable countries such as Libya and Syria could be considered eligible even if they do not top the list of climate vulnerability.

Her view is that opening the fund to the UN’s whole list of developing nations would be easier than opening a “can of worms” by establishing new criteria.

“The aim of the loss and damage fund is to help vulnerable countries,” she said. “You can’t work out every time there is a claim, are you actually vulnerable enough or not?”

Updated: November 14, 2023, 1:20 PM