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Kiribati, Jamaica, and the fight for a loss and damage agreement

By February 11, 2015 No Comments

All of the major sections of the elements of the draft Paris agreement are now out, and countries have begun discussing how to deal with the mounds of additional options.

The latest version on Adaptation and Loss and Damage is full of different options for L&D. From having its own section and clear funding mechanisms to not even being in the agreement at all.

Early on in today’s session, the Africa Group again stated that loss and damage should be distinct from adaptation, but a number of developed countries still aren’t listening.

I asked Dr. Orville Grey of the Jamaican delegation to explain why his country and its negotiating bloc, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), are among those who propose a distinct section on loss and damage.

Dr. Grey holds a doctorate on environmental biology and is a senior technical officer on adaptation in Jamaica’s Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change.

“Adaptation is talking about efforts that we can take now to deal with climate change, to increase the resilience of our people and our communities. Loss and damage is dealing with elements that are beyond adaptation,” he explained. “If we are looking at 4 degrees [Celsius temperature increase], which is a possible projection, then the anticipated increase in sea level rise is beyond the level of adaptation for many of our members.”

Dr. Grey pointed out the current plight of the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati, an AOSIS member, which has a highest point of about 3 meters above sea level. Sadly, President Anote Tong has previously stated that the country will become uninhabitable in 30 to 60 years.

“You are now talking about almost total devastation. There’s no way the people of Kiribati can adapt to that sort of climate change impact. That is significant loss and damage,” he said. “You can’t deal with that – you can’t plant more mangroves, you can’t build seawalls forever. So we are beyond adaptation. It is a separate issue.”

Dr. Grey also reiterated that extreme weather events are not separate from loss and damage.

“As projected now, the intensity of storms are projected to increase, at least for our region. What we are looking at [are not typhoon categories] 1, 2, 3 as they are not anymore useful, but 4, 5, etc.,” he said. “In Jamaica, a Category 5 hurricane significantly pushes us back in terms of development. We could be looking at a Jamaica that was 20-30 years ago [in terms of development] because of loss and damage.”

“Depending on whose interpretation you look at, [if storms] are also projected to increase in frequency, then you can imagine even having one of those every year,” he added. “There’s no amount of adaptation that’s going to prevent you from suffering the impacts associated with this over and over and over. There has to be a mechanism to allow us to survive.”

“While we are doing everything we can to adapt, while we’re taking on measures to increase our resilience, reduce our vulnerability, there is still that element associated with slow-onset events as well as extreme weather events, that will result to loss and damage that we will have to deal with, so that is still our major issue,” he clarified.

It seems we won’t get to discuss loss and damage at least for another day, but when we do, this Filipino tracker hopes Dr. Grey and his colleagues in AOSIS will finally get the recognition they deserve.

Denise Fontanilla

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