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(GIN)—With mere minutes to spare, delegates to the U.N. climate conference (also called COP27) reached a compromise to create a fund for disadvantaged countries coping with climate disasters worsened by pollution, mainly from wealthy nations.

The meeting of more than 200 countries, ending after two weeks of talks, put a finishing touch to one of the most contentious issues dogging the U.N. group that saw years of discussion but no agreement on how to phase out fossil fuels or meet the urgent needs of African countries and other regions of the Global South.

The compromise was a new “loss and damage” fund, a win for poorer nations that have long called for cash—sometimes viewed as reparations—for the costs of destructive storms, heat waves and droughts fueled by global warming.

The United States and other wealthy countries have long rejected the loss-and-damage concept, fearing they could be held legally liable for the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

Although the Americans have now agreed to add to a fund, money must be appropriated by Congress. Last year, the Biden administration sought $2.5 billion in climate finance but secured just $1 billion, and that was when Democrats controlled both chambers. With Republicans in power, who largely oppose climate aid,  the prospects for approving an entirely new pot of money appear dim.

Collins Nzovu, Zambia’s minister of green economy and environment, called the latest development “a very positive result for 1.3 billion Africans.”

But many African climate activists were dismayed by the small steps taken by the global delegates and also by the African delegations who, they said, used the conference to embrace the new scramble for oil and gas on the continent.

“For any meaningful outcome to be achieved in Egypt,” wrote Tal Harris of Greenpeace, “delegates must listen to the people of Africa—not the fossil fuel sector—and collectively commit to a phase-out of all fossil fuels.”

Other outspoken critics of fossil fuel development included Kenyan climate activist Barbra Kangwana of Safe Lamu. The group squashed government efforts to build a coal plant at Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the name of boosting the national electricity supply.

“The community raised its voice, lobbied, signed petitions, went to court and eventually the people won,” she said.

Patience Nabukalu, an activist from Uganda, has been organizing against an East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP), calling it “a clear example of colonial exploitation in Africa and across the global south.”

“EACOP is not going to develop our country: peoples’ land was taken, leaving many homeless and poor and critical ecosystems and biodiversity at risk of oil spills such as Lake Victoria, rivers, national parks, animals and birds, as well as aquatic life. We remain hopeful and vigilant as banks and insurers have withdrawn their support. We will continue to resist until everyone involved abandons it completely.”

“The fossil fuel industry has degraded our people, our lands, our oceans and our air,” charged Mbong Akiy with Greenpeace Africa. “Enough is enough. No matter how many deals they sign, no matter how many bribes they pay or how fancy the suits they wear: we shall wait for them in our communities, we will wait for them on the frontlines. 

“We will not stop until we see a complete transition to clean, renewable energy that is guaranteed to take millions of Africans out of energy poverty. … In South Africa, we have won against big oil, we sent Shell packing, and we will send them all packing again.”

“Fossil fuel production, if adopted, will stop Africa from leapfrogging towards a renewable and clean energy future,” said Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe of Powershift Africa. “We pledge to continue pushing for The Africa We Want beyond COP27.”

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