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Loss and damage: The hard-fought battle yet to achieve the expected success

  • Published at 01:31 pm January 19th, 2020
Photo: Bigstock

In 2013, COP19 established the Warsaw International Mechanism to address loss and damage associated with climate change

A brief history of loss and damage negotiation before COP25

The term ‘loss and damage’ does not have a universally accepted definition yet, but it usually refers to a state where adaptive capacity and the level of preparedness fall short. In 1991, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) first proposed the issue of loss and damage at the UN negotiation. It proposed to establish an insurance pool for vulnerable countries with mandatory funding by the developed countries. This idea did not stay alive in the negotiation and eventually fell off the table until 2007 when Bali Action plan called for action on disaster risk reduction strategies and other means to address loss and damage in particularly vulnerable countries. In 2013, COP19 established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on loss and damage to address loss and damage associated with climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events. The mechanism is to be guided by an executive committee, and this committee is mandated to take actions on enhancing knowledge on comprehensive disaster management to address loss and damage. It has also called for strengthening coordination among relevant stakeholders and enhancing finance and support in the form of capacity building to address loss and damage associated with climate change.

Finally, in COP22, loss and damage got a separate full article (Article 8) which was one of the most critical demands from AOSIS. The agreement does portray loss and damage as an independent third pillar in climate change negotiations which gives it another discussion point outside adaptation and mitigation. However, the language of the agreement is very carefully crafted to avoid additional financial commitments of developed countries beyond adaptation and mitigation. 

Although the specific claims of developing countries did not survive the final round of negotiations, the Paris Agreement gives effect to their most important demand, namely integrating loss and damage as an independent third pillar of the climate regime. It does so through dedicating a full article (Article 8) to loss and damage and integrating the Warsaw International Mechanism into the long-term cooperative structure of the climate regime. The Agreement further provides that the Warsaw Mechanism may be further enhanced and strengthened by creating a dynamic hook that enables loss and damage to continue to evolve in years to come. Moreover, the finance section of the agreement (Article 9) clarifies that the finance is to be balanced between adaptation and mitigation, excluding any reference to loss and damage.

Present status of loss and damage: Looking at COP25

COP25 was considered to be very significant for loss and damage as the second review of WIM was scheduled on this occasion. The first review happened in COP22 and been decided to have the second review at the COP25. Since the Executive Committee has been working on the issue of loss and damage for quite some time now, at this COP25 the developing countries wanted to significantly strengthen the ability of the WIM to facilitate work on-the-ground to address these impacts. Their demands included; scaled-up financing from the developed countries; enhanced capacity building; more visible inclusion of loss and damage in financial mechanism; and expansion of the institutional arrangements under the WIM. Nevertheless, the negotiation scenarios were far from reaching there as the developed countries were only interested in the minor tweaks to the working of the WIM Committee, such as technical reporting format, better communication and outreach. 

The negotiation on loss and damage went two more days than the designated COP days, and finally, parties decided for the final text. While the text addresses few demands from the developing countries, it excluded some of their significant requests. Best use of available science in working for loss and damage- recognition of the fact that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will reduce this risk. Also, the need for enhanced work on slow onset events and non-economic loss and damage are some decisions that got included in the final text, which has importance to developing countries. The text also addresses the need for scaled-up financing to reduce loss and damage but in a broad provision and not explicitly directed to developed countries. Also, the text avoided the inclusion of the words “New and Additional” financing for loss and damage. 

Therefore, while we have the Santiago network from this COP to provide technical support to developing countries, there is no specific financial commitment that can secure enough to address both economic and non-economic loss and damage. Another issue on the governance of WIM raised in the discussion was -- should both the Paris Agreement and Convention have authority over WIM, which is the case now or should only one agency have authority over it? While this issue remained unresolved at this COP25, it will be discussed further at COP26 in Glasgow, UK. 

Istiakh Ahmed is a programme coordinator at the International Center for Climate Change and Development, ICCCAD

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