NEXT month, the annual UN climate conference, COP27, will take place in Egypt. On a rainy Saturday last November, I was proud to march through the streets of Glasgow with people of all ages and backgrounds, calling for COP26 to deliver climate justice.

Unfortunately, many of the cries fell on deaf ears. COP26 ended with a whimper, falling far short of the action we needed to see. COP27 must do better. And Nicola Sturgeon has a big role to play.

The reasons that COP26 did not succeed were, in my view, due to a lack of political leadership from the key players in the Global North. The annual climate talks have been captured by incrementalism which pervades all levels of the negotiations.

Each year, the conferences become their own tedious ecosystem, which leaves ambition and political risk-taking gasping for air. They are devoid of sufficient visioning of what a better world could look like, in favour of snails-pace progress, haggling over definitions, and putting decisions off to future committees.

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Yet there was one glimmer of light at COP26 that gives me hope. At COP26, after listening to civil society, both from the Global South and Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon “broke the taboo” on the issue of finance for Loss & Damage, committing £2 million for this cause, the first developed country ever to do so. I cannot stress enough how important this was to the Global South.

Loss & Damage refers to the impacts of climate change already being experienced, especially in the Global South, such as in the form of extreme weather and sea-level rise. For instance, when cyclone Idai in February 2019 hit some parts of southern Africa, where I live, schools were flattened. Lives and livelihoods were lost.

Three years on, none of the victims have been compensated, and the school is still in ruins.

For decades, countries like mine have called on developed countries to admit culpability for the climate crisis and offer financial support to help people already suffering its effects. Developed countries have been resisting these calls since 1992, fearful of the legal consequences of admitting culpability, despite the extensive, irrefutable scientific evidence attesting that is the case.

The First Minister was brave enough to break the mould on the issue: to stick her neck out in the name of what she felt was the right thing to do. Committing finance for Loss & Damage, and noting that this was an act of reparations rather than charity, she helped break through the impasse on Loss & Damage which had been carefully curated by the Global North.

Her actions disrupted the delicate, tedious, card-house of inaction. The First Minister trusted her gut, ignored these concerns, showed she was a true ally of the Global South and helped shift the dial on this issue.

Her leadership at COP26 emboldened calls to establish a Loss & Damage Finance Mechanism under the UN. This proposal fell at the final hurdle, blocked by the EU and the US, but will return to the agenda at COP27. Success on this issue has been called a “litmus test” for success at the conference by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and the voice of political champions on this issue – like the First Minister – will be crucial to success.

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This week, the Scottish Government will host a conference on Loss & Damage in Edinburgh, bringing together global experts on the issue. It is vital that this conference provides a platform to turbo-charge the calls for political progress on Loss & Damage finance at COP27, and it can be a powerful springboard to success in Egypt next month.

As a “non-party” to the UN, the First Minister will not have a seat at the table at COP27. Yet this does not mean that she does not have power. Sometimes, when existing mechanisms are failing, it requires visionaries with integrity to flex their political and moral authority.

I look forward to the First Minister’s continued leadership on this issue at COP27 and believe her role can be a key part of delivering success.

Father Leonard Chiti is Jesuit Superior for Southern Africa and serves on SCIAF’s committee for Integral Human Development.