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Nearly 200 nations agreed on how to run a fund to help vulnerable countries deal with more extreme weather, and rich nations pledged at least $260 million to start the program, marking a breakthrough as global climate negotiations opened in Dubai. 

Delegates at the COP28 summit on Thursday adopted a framework for the World Bank-hosted fund after months of negotiations. The United Arab Emirates, this year’s host nation, said it would contribute $100 million, alongside another $100 million from Germany. The UK committed £40 million ($50 million) and Japan added $10 million. 

John Kerry, the US representative, said the Biden administration would work with Congress to provide $17.5 million. The announced contributions clear a $200 million minimum needed to launch operations, setting the stage to start disbursing money early next year. 

Figuring out how the fund will work is “a truly historic decision,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that runs the annual COP meetings, said before the deal was officially adopted. Reaching that agreement early in the two-week talks “will send a powerful signal to all of the negotiating rooms.”

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Delegates also agreed on an agenda without the drama of past meetings, setting up a smooth start to COP28. The plan on loss and damage, however, is just one of three main outcomes negotiators are working to deliver. A tougher fight lies ahead on how countries should react to the inadequate pace of slashing greenhouse gas emissions, which has already prompted sparring over what nations should collectively commit to do about fossil fuels in a warming world. 

Conference leaders and delegates delivered sober warnings about the stakes of inaction on Thursday.

“It is clear we are not on track,” Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, told reporters in a briefing. She said the world faces “unimaginable” consequences “if we don’t accelerate and scale up our action.”

The EU, US and other countries are pushing for concrete pledges including paring fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency. The potential fossil fuel language in the final agreement has been a major source of tension, with some oil-rich nations reluctant to embrace a commitment to phase them out altogether.

Stiell called for an unflinching approach. “If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline,” he said in opening remarks. “And we choose to pay with people’s lives.”

It’s taken a year to hammer out details for the loss and damage fund, a relatively short amount of time in the world of climate diplomacy. Nations resolved to create it at the end of COP27 in Egypt. Representatives from nearly two dozen countries negotiated on specifics for months, including the controversial decision to set it up as a financial intermediary fund hosted by the World Bank on a four-year interim basis.

Major questions still hang over the facility, including the source and scale of funding going forward. Emerging economies argue that countries which industrialized first should make significant contributions, given they’re responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions accumulated in the atmosphere. 

Germany’s Morgan said that countries “that are particularly capable,” such as China and Saudi Arabia, also should support the fund. “That would be a magnanimous gesture and also a signal of how these countries take their responsibilities for the most vulnerable countries seriously,” she said.

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The text that was approved on Thursday lays out a plan for replenishing the fund every four years, with contributions coming from a “wide variety of sources,” including grants and concessional loans. But it stops short of demanding payments, merely urging countries to provide support “on a voluntary basis” and inviting developed nations “to take the lead” to provide seed money. 

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The US fought to ensure the framework text made contributions voluntary, and Kerry has emphasized the US already provides disaster relief funding through other channels.

“It’s important the fund does not represent any expression of liability” or “any sort of new legal requirements,” Kerry told reporters Wednesday. “We think that this fund — the way it’s designed — will meet the needs of vulnerable countries,” and “can be stood up quickly but confidently.”

--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.

(Updates with contribution totals from first paragraph)

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