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Climate-related disasters have been on the rise across the globe this year, with many – often vulnerable developing – countries suffering from the losses and damages from climate change impacts.

With the island nation of Fiji at the helm of this years’ COP23, the issue of Loss & Damage was brought into the climate summit in Bonn as one of the key negotiation points. Much to the disappointment of many climate vulnerable countries, however, COP23 made little progress in giving Loss & Damage the importance it deserves within the international climate negotiations.

Climate Tracker gives an overview of the latest developments in Loss & Damage:

 

The History of ‘Loss & Damage’ at climate negotiations

 

Loss and Damage (L&D) has increasingly become a crucial issue for Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Already in 2010, a work program dealing with climate impacts was created under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF) during COP16. It was part of the Cancun Agreements, a set of measures that made sure that adaptation would be addressed with the same level of priority as mitigation. It was the result of three hard years of structured negotiations from the COP13 in Bali onwards, known as the Bali Roadmap. Although the CAF mainly strived to enhance action on adaptation (and the separation from ‘loss & damage’ as we know it now was not yet as clear) this was an important step in recognizing there are climate impacts we can’t prevent any more.

A second major step forward was the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) in 2013, during the COP19 in Poland. An Executive Committee was set up to help implement the Warsaw International Mechanism and its three main functions, namely:

  1. enhancing knowledge on Loss & Damage;
  2. strengthening dialogue; and
  3. enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building.

At the moment the topic of Loss and Damage is considered only once a year when this Executive Committee (WIM Excom) presents its annual report. The work of the WIM Excom is considered to be a technical addition to the actual negotiations and thus takes place on the sidelines.

Being the pivotal moment in the history of international climate change negotiations, the Paris Agreement (PA) that was formed in 2015 during COP21 also included ‘Loss & Damage’ under a separate article, Article 8 of the Paris Agreement. The article still includes the work of the WIM Excom and recognises the importance of averting and addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change. It also says parties should enhance “understanding, action and support” on this key topic (Art. 8.3), which is something that has lead to heated debates in the negotiations since its adoption. Since its adoption in the Paris Agreement, Loss & Damage has been considered as one of the three pillars of climate policy, along with mitigation and adaptation.

Loss & Damage at COP23

 

With COP23 hosted by the small island state of Fiji, vulnerable countries had placed their hopes on addressing the issue of Loss and Damage during the 2017 climate negotiations.

Until now, the workstream to create the Paris rulebook doesn’t include loss and damage as an agenda point, meaning loss and damage have not been given a major space in the political UNFCCC process.

One of the main hopes for vulnerable countries during COP23 was that the discussions on Loss and Damage would move beyond the current, very technical, negotiations on the sidelines by the WIM Excom to a more inclusive and political one that takes place at the heart of the discussions on the Paris Rulebook.

At the start of COP23, vulnerable developing countries, including those represented by the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), had – in their opening statementscalled for a permanent agenda item for Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) to consider Loss and Damage at each of its sessions. These Bodies would be able to include Loss and Damage much more into the COP negotiations and would move the topic from the sidelines to the center of global climate change discussions. Similar calls had been made earlier by the G77+China negotiating group.

Why is it so important that Subsidiary Bodies also negotiate L&D? Doesn’t the WIM Expert Committee already take care of this? Yes and no:

Yes, the WIM Excom is an active committee that still meets once a year to discuss L&D, and even met twice in 2017. It recently agreed to a  five-year rolling work plan and does indeed provide consultations and reports to several negotiating bodies. Even during COP23 the WIM Excom made some significant progress, with the launching of the Fiji clearinghouse for risk transfer (an information platform on L&D) and the establishment of a Task Force on Displacement and an expert group on non-economic losses (both will be taking place during the next intersessional in May 2018).

No, the WIM Excom is not a sufficient tool in bringing forward the Loss & Damage issue exclusively. The Committee only consists of 20 members (compared to all 197 parties being present in the COP discussions), only convenes once a year (compared to two meetings a year by the Subsidiary Bodies), has a very limited budget, and only has an advisory role (with “recommendations” being the best possible outcome). Developing countries have argued justly that more is needed to fully integrate what is now being called “the third pillar of the Paris Agreement”.

But unlike the two other pillars – mitigation and adaptation – with their promised $100bn-a-year in climate finance, there are currently no sources of finance for loss and damage. This despite strong demands from developing countries that additional finance is needed to cover Loss & Damage.

Financing for L&D, however, is currently not even on the negotiating table, since the COP21 Decision clearly states in its loss and damage section that it “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” The inclusion of the term “compensation” was a red-line for many developed countries during COP21, especially for the United States. In the end, “the need for compensation” was replaced with “action and support”, which leaves ample room for vagueness.

In the end, the pleas from developing countries to integrate L&D more into core negotiations during COP23 were in vain, with developed countries blocking any such demands during the whole 2 weeks in Bonn. The objections raised by developed countries were that now was not the time for having this debate or that Loss and Damage ought not to be “politicised”. Ironically, the call for establishing a new agenda item to discuss Loss and Damage at broader scale was objected on the basis that it was too broad for current negotiations.

An Expert Dialogue as Consolation Prize

During the final discussions at COP23, a consolation prize was achieved: there will be a broad expert dialogue on the support (including finance) for Loss and Damage at the meeting of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies in May 2018. Next May this dialogue will:

explore a wide range of information, inputs and views on ways for facilitating the mobilisation and securing of expertise, and enhancement of support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage.

Far from being an inclusive prioritised discussion on how to deal with the current climate impacts on vulnerable countries, the topic of Loss and Damage is still only being discussed on the sidelines of the international climate negotiations. Although an expert dialogue will take place in May, urgent decisions need to be made now to help countries deal with the losses and damages they are suffering already.

The technical work on Loss & Damage that is currently being done by the WIM Excom can indeed already inform parties on the practical implementation of Loss & Damage guidelines, but the question of ‘support and responsibilities’ demands direct political attention. The enormous damages countries’ are suffering, and the limited capacity they have to deal with them cannot be left unanswered. The expert dialogue in May will hopefully be the first step in actually coming up with solutions instead of pointing fingers.The victims of climate-induced disasters would be thankful.

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur is a tropical biologist with a keen sense of adventure. When he isn't stressing his girlfriend with his rough travelling antics he writes articles on political and ecological topics. With a group of biologists he founded Lonely Creatures, an organisation that brings under attention the stories of endangered species across Europe.