As Earth enters climate ‘uncharted territory,’ UN loss and damage talks collapse

Mark Lynas

October 24, 2023

In an ominous sign for the upcoming climate summit COP28, the talks held by the ‘transitional committee’ of the United Nations loss and damage fund have collapsed following an acrimonious meeting in Egypt.

This news comes in the same week scientists publishing a ‘State of the Climate’ report warn that Earth is “entering uncharted territory” as temperatures and emissions continue their seemingly inexorable rise.

The loss and damage fund was one of the significant outcomes of COP27, held last year in Sharm El-Sheikh, heralded by the most climate-vulnerable countries as essential compensation for damages they already suffer due to climate impacts. The new scientific report leaves no room for doubt about the climate change fingerprint in these escalating impacts.

‘Make or break moment to forge consensus’

Speaking exclusively to the Alliance for Science, the transitional committee member from the Maldives, state environment minister Khadeeja Naseem, said that the process was at a “make or break moment to forge consensus on an ambitious package that can be sent to COP28.”

She confirmed there still needed to be an agreement on where to host the fund, who would put money into it, and which nations could draw from it. “Operationalizing the loss and damage is important for the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Having this fund should save extra lives that would otherwise have been lost. We are dangerously close to overshooting the 1.5 degrees target, and the impacts are catastrophic already.”

Extreme weather events and disasters

However, she emphasized that another final meeting will be held in a fortnight to try to “overcome the hurdles” and “produce a clean text with no brackets ready to be adopted at COP28.”

The new scientific report, published today in the journal BioScience by some of the top scientists studying climate impacts, concludes that “in 2023, climate change likely contributed to several major extreme weather events and disasters”, including severe flooding in China, deadly flash floods in India, record-breaking heat waves in the United States, and the exceptionally intense Mediterranean cyclone that lead to thousands of deaths in Libya.

Wealthy countries and major financial institutions

In straightforward language, the scientific team writes: ” Life on planet Earth is under siege. We are now in an uncharted territory. For several decades, scientists have consistently warned of a future marked by extreme climatic conditions because of escalating global temperatures caused by ongoing human activities that release harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, time is up. We are seeing the manifestation of those predictions as an alarming and unprecedented succession of climate records are broken, causing profoundly distressing scenes of suffering to unfold.”

The scientists note: “As these impacts continue to accelerate, more funding to compensate for climate-related loss and damage in developing countries is urgently needed.”

Climate-vulnerable countries

However, very little money from the wealthy countries most responsible for historical carbon emissions has been put on the table. Even worse, some climate-vulnerable countries are under crippling debt burdens thanks to loans from wealthy countries and major financial institutions.

The scientists also point out that the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C is now effectively out of reach. They observe that “2023 has already seen 38 days with global average temperatures above 1.5°C by 12 September.”

They add: “As we will soon bear witness to failing to meet the Paris agreement’s aspirational 1.5°C goal, the significance of immediately curbing fossil fuel use and preventing every further 0.1°C increase in future global heating cannot be overstated.”


Mark Lynas is a climate change author and campaigner. He is an advisor to the former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. He is the research and climate lead with the Alliance for Science, where he has co-authored peer-reviewed papers on vaccines, climate, and GMOs focusing on scientific consensus and misinformation.