Climate change: COP yet to address loss and damage

Shaila Mahmud | Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Over the last few decades, rise in climatic hazards, associated with slow onset and extreme weather events, warranted implementation of the 'Loss and Damage' (L&D) along with adaptation and mitigation as a third pillar of climate action in developing countries. Because these are the worst victims of human-induced climate change. As a matter of fact, this year's 22nd session of the Conference of Parties (COP) was expected to be the 'Loss and Damage COP', considering the mandated review of the two-year work plan of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) that was established at COP19 in Warsaw.
'Loss and damage' can be described as negative impacts of climate change inflicted upon countries vulnerable to climate change given ineffectiveness of existing adaptation and mitigation technologies. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) characterises the two perplexing terms, referring to 'loss' as an irreversible impact that cannot be repaired or restored, and 'damage' as an impact that can still be reversed or alleviated. If we take the recent example of Haiti, the third most affected country in 2015 as identified by Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) Report, we know hundreds of lives were lost in the Hurricane Mathew. So this is a complete 'loss'. On the other hand, buildings and other socio-economic infrastructures that could be rebuilt but damaged in the hurricane falls under 'damage' from climate change.
The concept of L&D was not much in currency until recently.The call for inclusion of this much-debated topic under the climate change regime dates back to 1991, a year before adoption of the UN Climate Convention. During this time, the small island-states made a plea to be compensated via an international insurance pool for losses resulting from the impacts of sea-level rise, a slow-onset event that cannot be solved via adaptation or mitigation. The issue of L&D was first raised and offered as a work programme under the UNFCCC system in 2007 at COP13 in Bali. It made its way to the Cancun Adaptation Framework at COP16, went through fine-tuning at COP17, had its own policy mechanism at COP19 in Warsaw, (commonly known as the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage).
The distinct manifestation of L&D, as an individual component of climate action, is by far the biggest victory for campaigns led by the vulnerable least developed countries that have been fighting hard since the beginning to embrace L&D as a new discipline under the Convention. Article 8.3 under the Paris Agreement (PA) calls for international support (financial) through the WIM, relating to L&D associated with adverse effects of climate change. Along with these two achievements, the PA secured the WIM's position as the UN body that will be making decisions on L&D for reinforcing the mechanism. The triumphs made in Paris stirred the thought of topping the French COP in the Moroccan COP of this year in terms of decisions and action on L&D.
With big achievements made in Paris, this year's COP was assumed to be taking the issue of L&D forward from what has been done so far. Surprisingly, the much-anticipated 'loss and damage COP' has experienced a rather sluggish progress in terms of decisions and actions. Besides, the WIM, at the time of its establishment at COP19, was agreed to be reviewed at the 22nd COP, along with an indicative framework for a five-year rolling work plan built upon the accomplishment of the two-year work plan (2015/2016) that was designed by the executive committee of the mechanism. The two-year work plan that was approved in Lima at COP20 took into account nine action areas for L&D, comprising non-economic losses, slow onset events, migration and support for financial instruments.
The UNFCCC press release at the UN Climate Summit 2016 stated that a new five-year framework under the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) will administer impacts that are not addressed through planned adaptation, incorporating displacement, migration and human mobility and comprehensive risk management. Besides, the decisions agreed upon reviewing the report based on the initial two-year work plan of the WIM, demands enhancing the work through collaboration with a wide range of bodies and entities inside and outside the UNFCCC process raising its potential and effectiveness. This decisions adopted in Marrakesh also ensure shared commitment of parties to address the concerns of the most vulnerable countries.
It may seem decisions on L&D have made some progress in Morocco but in reality it has left out the most important issues that need to be addressed to implement L&D mechanism as a third pillar of climate action, along with adaptation and mitigation. Draft conclusions and recommendations proposed by the chairs, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) of the WIM, is pretty much centring around the outcomes of the PA and the just completed two-year work plan.
The decision cries for a proper financial mechanism to implement the five-year work plan. Under paragraph 4 of the draft decisions (FCCC/SB/2016/L.8), the issue of financing for L&D has been vaguely presented, leaving out the need for introducing the source of funding for L&D.
While the WIM has been carrying out some tasks under the L&D work programme, it is moving rather slowly in terms of building financial mechanism to efficiently address both economic and non-economic losses and damages. By far, the financial action under the WIM included risk transfer, using insurance policies to help vulnerable groups. As we know, insurance is not always feasible. For example, we cannot insure against abnormal precipitation rate or rising sea-level. Thus, the need to build innovative, yet more inclusive financial mechanisms (like fossil levy or carbon taxing etc.) was one of the things the least developed countries were expecting at the 22nd UN climate talks.
Even though it is a separate matter, L&D has not been mentioned under Article 9 of the PA which entails the urgency of financing for adaptation and mitigation. It is true, some work streams of L&D are related to adaptation, but the fund available for adaptation is too little to work for loss and damage. According to a report by CARE, the WIM should urgently develop financial instruments which can generate additional finance in the order of US$ 50 billion annually by 2020 to avoid irrecoverable and permanent losses and damages.
Moreover, the 2017 Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) report revealed, more than 528,000 lives were lost worldwide and losses of US$ 3.08 trillion were incurred as a direct result of almost 11,000 extreme weather events, between 1996 and 2015 around the world. According to the report, the host region of the 2016's COP - the continent of Africa - is the worst victim to extreme climatic events with four countries ranking among the 10 countries worldwide most affected in 2015 - Mozambique (1st), Malawi (3rd), Ghana and Madagascar (joint 8th position). Despite the urgency for consolidating the demands for loss and damage, the failure to reach any concrete decisions on actions to be taken is rather ironic.
The writer is a Bangladesh-based researcher and a Climate Tracker fellow for COP2 .
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