Since the inception of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC) over 20 years ago, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has advocated the need for loss and damage from the impacts of climate change to be recognised under the convention.
At the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) held in Warsaw, all 196 UN member states agreed to set up a mechanism on loss and damage. Known as the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), an executive committee (Excom) of 20 members was appointed from both Annex 1 (developed) and non-annex 1 countries (developing). The Excom is responsible for reporting back to the UNFCCC, at COP22 in 2016, in Morocco where the effectiveness, structure, and mandate of the WIM will be reviewed.
In the meantime, there are many technicalities surrounding loss and damage, which the Excom have to attend to, one of which is identifying a definition of what we call “loss” and what we call “damage.” Currently there is no unified internationally recognised definition for loss and damage. The open framing of loss and damage was the founding reason why an agreement could be reached by all countries. Annex 1 countries have long been averse to even talking about loss and damage and are particularly opposed to accepting loss and damage as liability and compensation.
Nonetheless, in order to operationalise what is considered loss and damage it is essential to form a commonly agreed definition. The WIM Excom will meet in Bonn from September 24-26, aiming to identify a workable definition for loss and damage, before COP 21 begins in Paris, in December. How loss and damage is conceptualised through this definition will have a significant bearing on how we prepare for a world where mitigation and adaptation cannot prevent or avert damage from disasters such as cyclones, drought and sea level rise.
Opportunity for cross-collaboration
The UNFCCC states that the WIM should “draw upon the work of and involve” existing bodies and expert groups under the Convention, as well as involving relevant organisations “at all levels.” This represents an opportunity for professionals and communities, across all sectors to collaborate.
At the end of July this year, ActionAid Bangladesh (AAB) and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in collaboration with Global Network of Civil Societies on Disaster Reduction (GNDR) hosted a multilogue in Dhaka with a cross-sector of professionals, aiming to create a dialogue on loss and damage.
Dr Nurul Quadir, part of Bangladesh's climate negotiating team and member of the loss and damage Excom, was present at the multilogue and encouraged civil society and NGOs to share their experiences on the ground with the Excom before the next meeting in Bonn.
Loss and damage is one of the few cross-cutting issues where there are synergies across each of the four international parallel processes happening this year (Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Finance for Development, Sustainable Development Goals and COP 21). A strong, workable definition on loss and damage therefore, relies on the involvement of and collaboration of many working areas.
With non-Annex 1 countries pushing for loss and damage to be mentioned as part of the global agreement at COP21 and Annex 1 countries wanting no reference of it, a global agreement in Paris with the inclusion of a new reference to loss and damage may be dependent on the definition which is to be agreed upon in Bonn.