We need a paradigm shift to deal with loss and damage from climate change

Coastal areas in Patuakhali inundated during cyclone Amphan. Star file photo

In the international negotiations on climate change impacts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the issue of loss and damage has always been a politically sensitive topic—it brings up issues of liability and compensation, which many developed countries regard as taboo topics. Nevertheless, after much concerted effort from the most vulnerable developing countries, there was some success in getting the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on loss and damage approved at COP19 in Poland in 2013. Under the WIM, an executive committee with a five year work programme was set up, which delivered some excellent technical products, including a task force report on displacement due to climate change (which falls under the WIM).

However, there has not been similar progress on the demand from vulnerable developing countries for innovative finance for loss and damage, beyond insurance. While insurance is definitely a potential way forward, it cannot be the only way to raise funds. Last year at the 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) held in Madrid, the vulnerable developing countries pushed hard for setting up a financial mechanism under the WIM to explore some new and innovative sources of funding loss and damage. This topic was one of the hot issues that took COP25 into two extra days of negotiations, and even then was not resolved to our satisfaction. All we got was to set up a technical arm of the WIM called the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, but it had no financial arm, which we had demanded. Hence, COP25 was definitely a failed conference from the perspective of the vulnerable developing countries.

Preparations are now under way for COP26, which was originally supposed to have been hosted by the United Kingdom in November 2020, but has now been postponed to November 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This gives sufficient time for the UK as incoming chair of COP26 to consult widely with all relevant countries as well as civil society, and try to come up with a way forward to avoid the failure that was COP25.

How do we change the paradigm from mainly being a blame game to finding pragmatic solutions? A number of factors have made it very clear that climatic events are being significantly enhanced due to the increase of over one Degree Centigrade in the global atmospheric temperature as a result of human induced climate change, which means a discussion on loss and damage can no longer be postponed.

In 2020, the scientific community already made a major breakthrough by scientifically and credibly attributing the enhancement of the severity of different climatic events around the world. This includes super cyclone Amphan as well as the current floods, the present, severe fires in California and even the hurricanes Laura and Marco, which are currently in the Gulf of Mexico and likely to hit Texas.

This brings out the second new situation regarding the impacts that are attributable to human induced climate change and the associated loss and damage—namely that it is not just a matter for poor developing countries but for all countries, including the richest ones. Hence, it is now a global problem that will affect all countries, and every government will have to come up with solutions to protect their own populations.

The third additional factor is the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has clearly shown what the deadly consequences will be for national leaders who ignore the scientists and refuse to take timely actions. We are seeing, in real time, the enormous losses in human lives in countries where their leaders have ignored warnings from scientists and epidemiologists. Climate change scientists have been giving similar warnings, which unfortunately have been largely ignored so far, but now need to be taken more seriously if we wish to minimise the extent of global loss and damage going forward.

So the main paradigm shift that has occurred in 2020 is that the problem of addressing loss and damage is no longer a problem of the future, but rather a current and global problem that affects all countries. Hence, there is an urgent need to come up with solutions using a new paradigm of global solidarity, rather than that of a blame game.

The final aspect of the issue of loss and damage, which makes it more urgent than before, is the clear emerging attribution of displacement due to climate change, leading to the creation of climate change refugees—more popularly called climate migrants. This problem is now clearly attributable to human induced climate change and will become an even bigger political problem unless it is tackled early.

This is where the collaboration of the UK as the incoming chair of COP26 with Bangladesh—representing nearly 50 of the most vulnerable developing countries as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)—can be a useful vehicle to bring together developed and developing countries and find ways towards more pragmatic solutions in funding loss and damage beyond insurance.

At the same time, Bangladesh has the opportunity to offer a potential solution to set up its own national mechanism through implementation of the two year pilot project on loss and damage, which was announced by the government at COP24 in Katowice, Poland in 2019. This project needs to be fast tracked by the relevant ministries and taken forward as a two year public private partnership project to explore, in very practical ways, how Bangladesh can set up its own national mechanism on loss and damage.

This would also be another opportunity for Bangladesh to share it’s experience in real time with other vulnerable countries in the CVF for South-South knowledge sharing on how to tackle this increasingly important hazard to our people and countries.

The negative impacts of human induced climate change are now visible every single day in different parts of the world. There is no longer any valid reason to drag our feet and delay the ways to find solutions for all countries in the spirit of mutual solidarity. This is an opportunity for the UK and Bangladesh to lead the world in finding acceptable solutions at COP26 next year. This opportunity should not be missed.

Originally this article was published on August 26, 2020 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.org