Environmental experts speak on historic COP27 agreement

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Executive Director for the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), Arica Hill (left) and Chief Environmental Officer at the Department of the Environment, Ambassador Diann Black-Layne (right). (file photo)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

[email protected]

As the dust settles following a praiseworthy UN Climate Conference, Observer media sought the opinions of two environmental experts on what this means for Antigua and Barbuda.

At this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) held in Egypt, negotiating parties agreed in the final hours on the establishment of the loss and damage fund—a key proposal that had been raised by developing states for more than 30 years.

However, many environment policy commentators and media outlets referenced lack of agreement on the cutting of fossil fuel emissions, and the lack of details on the historic agreement as reasons why any celebrations should be tempered.

Over the last two days, Observer media reached out to Executive Director for the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), Arica Hill, and Chief Environmental Officer at the Department of the Environment, Ambassador Diann Black-Layne, to gauge their views on the outcome of COP27.

Arica Hill expressed her cautious optimism as it related to the loss and damage fund, but stated that this was a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done.

“A lot of the challenges that we face is that there is the anxiety that people have that all these terrible things are happening in the world, and nobody is really able to do anything about it, so it is good to see that it wasn’t another talk-shop,” Hill said, referring to the UN meeting.

Hill added that the agreement was an acknowledgement by the larger nations regarding their own contribution to climate change, and that was encouraging.

However, Hill explained that one of her main concerns was whether the rules for accessing the funds would be easy for developing countries and their respective environmental organisations.

“It should be easy to access financing for things you did not create a problem for,” Hill said.

In the meantime, Hill warned, “I am cautious in my exuberance because I want to be able to see that there is going to funding or movement toward adaption and mitigation, but I need them to be done in a way that an NGO, a community group, and faith-based organisations can also access the funding.”

Director Hill said she does not want to tell negotiators how to move forward on details on the loss and damage fund, but she spoke generally about her feeling that “from a national standpoint, there is constant conversation between the government and NGOs… and that communication feeds into how they negotiate.”

The Director further elaborated that it would be unproductive for persons who are not ultimately affected by government decisions on environmental policy, including the operationalisation of loss and damage funding, to not be included in the discussions.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Black-Layne explained that one of the next discussion points will be to fine-tune the details of the loss and damage fund.

“There are many funding streams that we can think about, but what we are trying to make sure is that it is not like the airline tax where we tax the airline tickets, which was tried before,” she said.

The Chief Environmental Officer explained that the priority until the next UN conference in the  United Arab Emirates (UAE) was to continue to discuss with counterparts on the details.

She also explained that some of the discussions happening in the country surrounded the taxing of the fossil fuel industry—which was raised by Prime Minister Gaston Browne during his speech at COP27—and debt forgiveness.

However, both experts agreed that the lack of agreement on fossil fuel cuts should not hinder what was a momentous achievement in the grand scheme of things.

“I am glad that we have the loss and damage fund, let’s celebrate that, and then next year, let us push for fossil fuel emissions to be reduced significantly. We are not going to get everything,” Hill explained.

Ambassador Black-Layne also explained, “they [the donor countries] had tried to link the setting up of the fund to an ambitious emission reduction approach which we were not sure how that would work.”

She added, “if that is the signal that they wanted to send to discuss a 1.5-degree conversation linked to the fund, then we have the whole year to prepare for that… and as Small Island Developing States, we have a lot of ideas on how to get to 1.5 degrees that we have been pushing for a long time.”

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