Loss and damage refer to climate change impacts in developing countries that people have not been able to cope with or adapt to. It spans the irreparable losses of lives, species and land from climate change, to recoverable damages- damaged homes, roads, power lines and other infrastructure. These include extreme weather events- from hurricanes, floods and heatwaves- but also span slow-onset events such as crippling drought and sea level rise.
The idea of loss and damage isn’t new. It has been raised by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over 20 years, with a work programme on loss and damage agreed to under the Cancun Adaptation Agreement at COP-16 in 2010, and another decision on it adopted at COP-18 in Doha in 2012.
But with each passing year, the intensity and frequency of these impacts were impossible to ignore, even by climate negotiators. In 2013, the Warsaw International Mechanism was set up as a dedicated body to study impacts, and support victims and governments in vulnerable developing countries. Its Executive Committee was tasked with carrying out its functions.
Loss and damage- now widely accepted as one of the key pillars of the Paris Agreement- was also its most hotly contested elements. It meant acknowledging the responsibility of developed countries for the climate phenomena we’re now seeing, by virtue of their historical and current emissions, as well as their ability to compensate victims in developing countries.
Developed countries, including the United States, fought tooth and nail against the term ‘compensation’, with John Kerry acknowledging that unlimited liability would ‘kill the deal’. In the end, developed countries agreed to replace compensation with ‘action and support’, and Loss and Damage were incorporated into the Paris Agreement.
Anticipated Outcomes and What Emerged
Given the extreme weather events that have hit countries hard in the last year, a decision on ‘loss and damage’ was a subject that was most keenly anticipated at this year’s COP, especially considering that it is a Pacific COP, with Fiji at the helm.
What was expected from this year’s COP was a decision on how this Expert Body would be funded, supported and strengthened so that it could act and support countries better. While every day yields news of a new disaster, and more lives lost, so far, the only tangible task that the WIM’s Executive Committee has on its plate to produce a technical paper by 2019. The Committee- with 10 members from developing and developed countries- has barely been able to meet twice a year. It is short on both capacities for expertise as well as the ability to implement and reach out to worst-hit affected communities.
At COP23, developed countries including the EU and Canada blocked discussions on finance repeatedly in negotiations, many of which were closed to observers.
A final text on Loss and Damage emerged today.
Experts reacted to it with shock at how weak it is.
As noted in a preliminary analysis by Harjeet Singh at Action Aid, the text currently doesn’t have a permanent agenda item on implementing “action and support”, or an expert group on mobilising resources or finance. Instead, it only offers “encouragement to parties to make available sufficient resources”.
Parties are only “invited” to mobilise resources, which is connected to a one-off “expert dialogue” between April and May 2018, under the Executive Committee and the Subsidiary Body on Implementation. A task force looking at internal and cross-border displacement is also set to meet once in May 2018.
Apparently, rich countries including the US and Australia objected to even the preamble of the text that dares to even mention climate disasters. https://twitter.com/jar_climate/status/930452271820877827
Given the times that we live in, a much stronger COP decision is needed to financially empower a Mechanism that has relevance for all, and not just for insurance companies in developed countries to cash in on.