Rising tide of loss and damage advances cause in U.N. climate deal

(This article was originally posted by Thomson Reuters Foundation here)

As the latest round of U.N. climate talks drew to a close in Bonn on Friday, the tiny island state of Dominica was beginning a second day of national mourning for more than 30 people killed a week ago by a tropical storm, and some 35 reported missing.

Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said the storm – which hit with little warning – was estimated to have caused damages of $500 million and cost 50 percent of the Caribbean island’s GDP.

“Tropical Storm Erika demonstrates clearly the existential threat which storms exacerbated by warming and rising seas pose for small island states,” Wahlström said in a statement.

In Bonn, development experts and negotiators pointed to the disaster as an example of why a new U.N. climate deal, due to be agreed in Paris in December, needed to include a mechanism for dealing with the “loss and damage” brought by more extreme weather and other climate change impacts.

“I can’t imagine an agreement which is going to last for at least 15 years … that doesn’t mention loss and damage,” said Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change policy for ActionAid. “Disasters are hitting us one after another.”

It became apparent in Bonn that some rich countries – which have in the past resisted inclusion of loss and damage in a new deal, fearing it could open the door to them paying financial compensation – are softening their stance.

A proposal on the issue was submitted to the U.N. climate secretariat by the United States, on behalf of a group also including Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and Japan, with support from the European Union, activists said.

David Waskow, international climate director at the World Resources Institute, told media this week that U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to an Alaskan island community threatened by rising seas as glaciers melt showed loss and damage was “relevant all around the world” and required a “constructive response”.

Yet governments are still thinking through the best approaches for dealing with the harm caused by climate impacts that may be unavoidable even with adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures, he added.

An international loss and damage mechanism, set up at the U.N. climate conference in Warsaw in 2013, has yet to do any substantial work, and is up for review next year.

That is why developing countries are so keen to ensure that a loss and damage institution of some kind is enshrined in the Paris climate change deal.


An alternative proposal tabled in Bonn this week by the Group of 77 developing countries and China calls for an international mechanism on loss and damage to be included in the legally binding part of the Paris outcome, which “shall draw upon, further develop and elaborate on” the work of the Warsaw body.

It also mandates the creation of “a climate change displacement coordination facility”, to help those forced to leave their homes by climate impacts.

An accompanying decision would set up a “financial technical panel” that would explore risk transfer schemes like insurance, support for micro-finance, and funding to respond to slow onset events like desertification and sea-level rise.

Crucially, Singh said, the G77 draft text does not contain the word “compensation”, which might scare off rich countries. Neither does it specify that any loss and damage mechanism in the Paris agreement should be new.

African and other climate campaigners at the talks said the key demand was that a loss and damage mechanism be cemented as one pillar of a binding legal agreement.

Yet while developed nations are showing greater willingness to engage on loss and damage, that battle is not yet won.

“The US and EU took baby steps towards agreeing to deal with climate damages for vulnerable countries, but insisted on leaving this out of the core agreement. Its exclusion will likely cripple a deal in Paris,” Singh warned.

Mohamed Adow, a climate advisor with Christian Aid, said countries were coming closer to acknowledging that an institution for tackling loss and damage should be an “integral part” of a Paris deal.

“(They) broadly accept that loss and damage is going to be part of the (future) climate regime – the question is where it is going to be placed, and how much stronger it is than what we currently have with the Warsaw International Mechanism,” he told reporters on Friday.

Written by: Megan Rowling, Reporter at Thomson Reuters Foundation