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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.
This week’s news:
- Kerry rejects “climate reparations” but praises loss and damage fund
- UAE’s Cop28 president plans “brutally honest” climate summit
- EU to push for fossil fuel phaseout ‘well ahead of 2050’ at Cop28
- Canada pledges US$340m to UN’s Green Climate Fund
- IEA celebrates energy transition minerals investment, as fears of shortage lessen
- After “sleepless nights”, governments strike deal on Green Climate Fund strategy
- Green Climate Fund backs scheme financing farming corporations accused of destroying forests
- ‘Historic milestone’: Ecuador nears vote to keep Amazon oil in the ground
- With corporate climate cheats on the chopping block, net zero is growing up
- The EU lacks ambition on Cop28 renewable targets
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 e