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Talks on climate loss and damage build up steam

by Climate & Development Knowledge Network | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 June 2012 15:10 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

By the consortium involved in the work programme for Least Developed Countries on loss and damage, funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

The recent U.N. climate talks in Bonn made only slow progress on negotiations. There was a deadlock on agreeing a new legal outcome to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and many developed countries were reluctant to explore innovative funding options.

But discussion on the loss and damage caused by climate change - that is, losses that are sustained when mitigation and adaptation efforts fail - made substantive advances.

Previously, developed countries in particular responded with reluctance and disagreement to the topic, but May’s session proved to be constructive and engaging. Developing countries took a much more coherent stand, with the Alliance of Small Island States, Least Developed Country group and African countries building a united front.

Loss and damage is not only a technical and political issue but also one of global climate justice. Bonn provided encouraging steps that show the willingness of the international community to start building up an adequate response to the multiple problems of loss and damage from climate change.


The first main issue under discussion at Bonn was a recap of the insights from an expert meeting in Tokyo this March (read the remarks of CDKN’s CEO, who attended the meeting, here), which assessed the risk of loss and damage.

The conclusion of these discussions will provide the basis for a decision on loss and damage later this year.

Parties realised that assessment of these risks is complex, and that a range of approaches are used depending on national circumstances. They noted that vulnerable communities are not necessarily part of existing efforts to map loss and damage.

It was also concluded that access and sharing of hydrometeorological data is an important starting point.

Parties acknowledged the need to involve all levels of decision-makers in the assessment process.

A point of contention was the issue of non-economic losses. Developing countries in particular sought a detailed description of such losses (for example cultural losses, loss of lives and ecosystems territory, or displacement) - for which no consensus could be found.


Secondly, negotiators considered guidance for the upcoming work programme. Over the summer, a series of workshops will be held in Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as for the Small Island context. In order to benefit from the progress that will be made at these events, parties in Bonn discussed guidance for the meetings.

Besides emphasising the objective of the work programme – to explore approaches and mechanisms, including at the international level – they also gave input on the agendas.

To make the workshops a successful enterprise, reflection is needed on the existing regional approaches and capacities in dealing with losses and damage from climate variability and climate change. From this, the need and value-added for a loss and damage mechanism under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) can be identified.

The first workshop for the African continent will take place from June 13-15, and it is essential to bring a broad range of expert opinion to the meeting, in particular to present indigenous African knowledge and action.

There is a need to carefully identify the gaps in existing approaches, so that the work can lead to the identification of the necessary action, and its scale, by the international climate regime.


Thirdly, parties in Bonn presented their views on how a decision might take shape at the U.N. climate conference in Doha late this year.

Developed countries, wary of pre-empting further work this summer, did not want to talk about the content of the decision, while developing countries pointed to the need to build in negotiation time before the Doha gathering. A compromise was found: parties will meet for an informal session just before the Doha summit.

One discussion of particular interest that arose during the negotiations lay in the general conceptualisation of loss and damage. While an exact definition is both difficult, and to some extent undesired (it is often best in the negotiating process to refrain from locking in an exact definition that may not prove fit for future purpose), the views of negotiating partners seemed to merge.

Loss and damage is now seen as a continuum, which encompasses extreme events as well as slow onset processes. While knowledge and activities on extreme events do exist, many gaps are evident on slow-onset challenges.

In face of low ambition at the negotiations on mitigation and financial support, the progress described on loss and damage has been a heartening element in an otherwise slow and dithering round of negotiations.  

We can only hope that future developments continue to progress at an equal pace, in order to fulfil the promise of addressing many of the human, economic and environmental losses resulting from climate change.

The CDKN, with the Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative, will continue to support LDCs and other vulnerable countries in energising the loss and damage debate.

This blog was first published on the CDKN website.