Demystifying loss and damage in the climate regime
The idea of 'Loss and Damage'comes into play when coping with the impacts of climate change--adaptation, and reduction of greenhouse gases mitigation--is not the solution to address the impacts of climate change.
To make it clearer, sea-level rise induced salinity intrusion in many parts of coastal Bangladesh has made agriculture impossible. Mitigating climate change by reducing the Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emission thereby halting sea level rise will not desalinate the soil. Again, development of salt-tolerant crop varieties, a form of adaptation will not solve the problem because there is a limit to the level of salinity they can withstand.
Furthermore, how do you deal with the loss of sense of place when a farmer's family is forced to migrate to an informal settlement in Dhaka in quest of new means of living as their lands are no more arable?
Loss and damage conceptually has been in the discussions around the international climate regime since its inception in the early nineties. Vanuatu--a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)--on the group's behalf proposed the establishment of an international insurance pool in 1991, during the negotiation which would result in the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) the following year.
The proposed insurance pool with contributions from the industrialised nations, calculated based on a modality drawn from the 'Brussels Supplementary Convention on Third Party Liability in the field of Nuclear Energy 1963', would insure the island nations and the low-lying developing nations against the loss and damageresulting from sea-level rise.
In the end, no international insurance pool as proposed by Vanuatu was established under the Convention. However, their plea did not end in smoke. The UNFCCC referred to insurance in its article 4.8 as an action that may be necessary "to meet the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the adverse effects of climate change".
Loss and damage appeared explicitly for the first time in the Bali Action Plan, during the thirteenth session of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP13) in 2007, when consideration of means to address the issue was launched. It formally anchored in the UNFCCC's architecture through the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damageassociated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) in 2013.
The issue has always been highly contentious in the climate negotiations. Because it is a matter of survival for them, the Island Nations and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have been at the frontline pushing for its recognition at the international level.
In 2014, Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, purchased land in Fiji, located some 2,147km away from it, because sea-level rise may require its 116,000 citizens to relocate. However, relocation, if becomes inevitable, will be a daunting task that the government of this small economy with a GDP of only 188million USD will not be able to undertake with its domestic resources.
Our South Asian neighbourthe Maldives also has similar plans. On the other hand, industrialised countries have never been comfortable in bringing in the issue of loss and damage to the international policy discourse.
The reason is obvious: they have become 'developed' by emitting GHGs. But, the countries like Kiribati whose share of GHG emissionsare almost invisibleon the historical emissions pie-chart are the ones bearing the brunt. Now, if the latter claim compensation for that, that surewould be a legit one in a hypothetical just world. The discomfort of the developed countries with loss and damage is because acknowledging the liability for causing climate change, at some point, would entail compensating for the loss and damage the vulnerable countries have been facing.
After a tug of war between the developing and the developed country parties that lasted until the last minute of negotiation, a stand-alone article on loss and damage was incorporated in the Paris Agreement, in 2015. However, paragraph 51 of the decision adopting the agreement rules out any provision of getting compensation, stating that it does not form the basis for any liability.
In Paris, developed country parties' stance echoed through the then US Secretary of States, John Kerry'sstatement presaging that, the inclusion of loss and damage as a basis for liability and compensation in the agreement would "kill the deal". In the pre-Paris Agreement period, loss and damage was subsumed under adaptation. Apart from being conceptually distinct, developing countries wanted it separated also because nesting it under adaptation would crowd out the already insufficient funds available for adaptation.
Sceptics might argue, emphasis onloss and damage is adeveloping countries' ploy to claim more money from their developed counterparts. But it is not. If it was, Kiribati would not have purchased land with own money, Bangladesh would not plan on establishing a National Mechanism on Loss and Damagewith its domestic resources.
Lots of developments such as the establishment of the WIM, inclusion of loss and damage as an article in the Paris Agreement and endorsement of the WIM have taken place in recent years. Nevertheless, progress on the specifics to address loss and damage at the international policy level remains largely elusive.
Role of the WIM is limited to collecting and disseminating information on loss and damage. Nointernational financial mechanism for addressing loss and damageis in place till date.Discussion on insurance as a measure for addressing loss and damage is notgoing on in a way AOSIS envisaged in 1991. All other noted measuresare mostlyex-ante palliatives for avoiding loss and damage.
With the terms of reference for reviewing the WIM agreed in Bonn Climate Conference in June this year, all eyes in Madrid Climate Conference (COP25) happening from 02 to 13 December now are on the loss and damage negotiation. Bangladesh as a member of the LDCs group and other country groupings having shared interest are looking forward to concrete outcomes from the review, particularly, in regard to establishing a finance mechanism.
The writer is research officer at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and a former intern at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat