Loss and Damages

Yesterday afternoon, Jake and I attended a contact group on approaches to address loss and damage due to climate change. This is a very important time to follow this issue because there are currently no modalities and procedures to address loss and damage.

A quick background:

Where mitigation and adaptation fail, people affected by climate change’s impacts may face damages to their property or health or permanent loss of land, resources, other assets, and even loss of life. The idea of compensation for loss and damage caused by climate change was proposed, but then tabled, during negotiations in 1991. Historically, high-emitting, developed countries have expressed concerns about being held liable for potentially unlimited damages and have resisted a firm decision on the issue. There are also significant challenges associated with attributing specific losses and damages directly to climate change and calculating compensation. Last year in Doha, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and island states pushed the issue until the Parties agreed to establish “institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism” that would help developing countries that are vulnerable to impacts address irrecoverable losses and damages from climate change. Negotiations around loss and damage are expected to include discussions of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and compensation for damages from extreme and slow-onset weather events.

At the contact group, parties shared their views on the mandate from the 38th Subsidiary Body for Implementation which took place in June 2013 and asked parties to identify activities for the next phase of the loss and damage work programme.

The United States’ statements yesterday during this group were interesting and revealed some insights into how the US views the issue of loss and damage. First, the US delegate explained how climate change could affect countries, describing the process of sea level rise, salination, ocean acidification, extreme weather events and other potential impacts.  Next, the US highlighted its commitment to the Nansen Initiative to address cross border displacement issues due to climate change-related disasters and other natural disasters. The US affirmed that it was committed to making significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 in order to achieve its Copenhagen goal of reducing emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. The US stated that the impending loss and damage is broad and even with the best risk reduction and adaptation strategies , we will never reduce the risk to zero. Accordingly, there should be a focus on the potential for technical, financial and capacity building support to reduce the severity of and respond to loss and damage.  Finally,  the US also noted its history of providing aid to countries in distress in the wake of natural disasters and called attention to its recently announced  $20 million dollar aid package for the Philippines.

Bolivia, on behalf of G77 and China, declared that an ad hoc response to these events is not appropriate. Bolivia asserted that they would not leave Warsaw without a response that goes beyond cosmetic changes to guidance for future work. They called for a substantive response that matches the severity of the dramatic, drastic impacts they are already seeing. Bangladesh echoed those sentiments in their remarks. Nauru, speaking on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), highlighted the longstanding need to fill this gap in the UNFCCC and address humanitarian needs after climate-related natural disasters and impacts. Nauru, on behalf of AOSIS, and Timor-Leste, on behalf of LDCs, both declared their support for the position and submission advanced by G77. Other countries present that made comments were Switzerland, Egypt, Tanzania, New Zealand, El Salvador, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The Philippines was one of the last countries to speak and the delegate broke down in tears when discussing the importance of creating a comprehensive and meaningful approach for loss and damages as soon as possible. It was a very intense, poignant moment that underscored the gravity of losses that are already occurring and exigency of the task ahead.

You can read over the three current submissions of proposed approaches  from the EU, Norway, and G77 & China here.