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Climate policy inaction fuels new era of loss and damage - report

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 November 2012 20:13 GMT

"It is precisely because of inaction by wealthy countries that time for mitigation and adaptation has passed: we are now in the era of loss and damage"

DOHA (AlertNet) - Loss and damage caused by climate change has become unavoidable due to inadequate efforts to curb global warming and scant support for poorer nations to cope with impacts such as worsening droughts and rising seas, environment and development groups said on Thursday.

In a report, CARE, ActionAid and WWF urged the developed world to take responsibility for the consequences of doing too little, too late to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and failing to provide enough funding and other help for vulnerable people to adapt to climate shifts.

"It is precisely because of inaction by wealthy countries that time for mitigation and adaptation has passed: we are now in the era of loss and damage," said the report.

From Nepali communities forced to move because of water shortages, to crumbling coral reefs in small island states, and the billions of dollars of destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the Caribbean in October, climate-related disasters are exacting a growing toll of human and economic losses across the world, representatives of the three non-governmental organisations told journalists in Doha.

"We've now reached the point where (climate change) is really speeding up, and this year really has been the year of climate impacts," said Kit Vaughan, director of environment and climate change for CARE International.

"We need to urgently mitigate, we need to provide resources for adaptation. But critically there will be places where adaptation is exceeded, leading us to a position where we have loss and damage from climate change," he added.

Loss and damage is widely understood as the adverse effects of climate change that result from failed efforts to protect people from disasters or to adapt. It includes the ramifications of slow-onset processes like sea-level rise and desertification, where adaptation may be impossible, the report said.

The NGOs urged governments to create a new international framework to address loss and damage within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a concept that is being debated at the Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 climate talks in Qatar.

The framework should include an international mechanism focused on compensation and rehabilitation, with the world's worst emitters prepared to pay the costs inflicted on poor communities by severe climate change impacts, the report said.

"Unless and until we have these mechanisms in place, developed countries will not realise how expensive it is going to be if they don't do mitigation in time," said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid. "Why we have reached this era of loss and damage is because we have not done anything in the last 20 years and that situation cannot continue."


A wider coalition of NGOs, including some from developing nations, plan to issue an open letter setting out the action they believe is required on loss and damage, which they will present to ministers arriving in Doha next week.

Singh said discussions around crafting an international insurance facility for climate risks - a proposal tabled by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) four years ago - have made progress.

There are two major regional insurance schemes that have already been launched outside the UNFCCC process, with backing from governments and the private sector. One in the Caribbean has been operating since 2007, and provides protection against hurricanes, earthquakes and excess rainfall. The other is a pan-African insurance scheme for extreme weather events, established last week, to help 18 African Union member states recover from natural disasters.

But the NGO experts said more work is needed on compensating for non-financial losses, including of biodiversity, culture and traditional knowledge. Governments must also ensure planned relocation and support for people who may permanently lose their land and incomes as a result of climate change, they added.

There are hopes that the Doha talks will agree to set up an international mechanism to deal with loss and damage, even if the form of any such mechanism remains vague. But cash-strapped rich nations may be put off by demands for financial compensation, one observer told AlertNet.

CARE's Vaughan acknowledged that there is "a good deal of resistance" among developed countries to an international loss and damage mechanism. U.N. climate negotiators appear to be locked in a "political bubble", "unaware of what is happening in the real world", he added. 

Singh said Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call that climate disasters are a growing threat for developed countries too.

"We are all going to be hit hard, but what we are asking is that (for) people who have not caused it, who do not have the capacity to rebuild their lives and who won't have any options left...where is the system right now to address that gap? We have to start to talking about it," he said.





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