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Countries clash over loss and damage at UN climate talks

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 4 December 2012 16:34 GMT

Negotiations in disarray Tuesday as some rich nation negotiators block efforts to take the issue forward out of liability fears

DOHA (AlertNet) - U.N. climate negotiations on loss and damage were in disarray on Tuesday, with negotiators from some rich nations blocking efforts to take the issue forward because they fear being held liable for the cost of climate change impacts in poorer states.

In an all-night session that ended on Tuesday morning, the United States reportedly argued that loss and damage should be handled by other mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including those set up to handle adaptation, and did not need its own work stream.

"Negotiators from certain countries...want the issue removed from the Doha decision text. So there is still a lot of fight to be had just to keep it in," Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, told reporters at the Doha talks, which are due to wind up on Friday.

For small island states, least developed countries (LDCs) and African nations, loss and damage is a red line, Huq added.

"They are not going to accept any decision in Doha unless they get something on loss and damage. What that something is, is still open to negotiations. It will have to be decided by the politicians now," he said.

Some developed countries are putting up fierce resistance to the continuation of work on loss and damage because it “is ultimately about liability and potentially compensation as well", Huq added.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, declined to comment when asked about the issue on Monday, saying "there are issues of some concern there", but that he had only just arrived in Doha and needed to get up to speed.

Some 100 developing countries are pushing for an international mechanism to guard against and help them recover from losses and damage from negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people have not been able to cope with or adapt to.

"We have had prolonged years of drought that were never experienced before in terms of duration, and then periods of wet which have gone on and on, so climate change is affecting patterns which then affect people's ability to plan and manage their resources," Kieren Keke, the foreign minister of the small Pacific island nation of Nauri, told an event on the sidelines of the talks on Tuesday.

Water for food production is becoming scarcer on small islands, with people increasingly dependent on rainfall, and coral bleaching is damaging reef fish species on which people rely for day-to-day sustenance, he said.


Ed Davey, Britain's secretary of state for energy and climate change, told reporters on Tuesday that the UK is keen to engage in the debates around loss and damage in Doha, adding "we need to take other countries with us".

"We should be cautious about saying we are strictly liable for some particular event or some particular change, but that does not mean we shouldn't work with others to try to help some of the poorest people in our world adapt to the impact of climate change," he said.

A Bangladeshi negotiator for the LDCs noted that work was continuing on a draft text on loss and damage on Tuesday, to present to ministers on Wednesday. There could be agreement on a "broad framework" for an international mechanism to deal with loss and damage, which would at least allow work to begin on crafting something, he added.

A compromise would likely avoid stating that the mechanism would deliver compensation and rehabilitation, as a coalition of aid and environment groups are demanding.

How an international mechanism might operate remains unclear. It could include a global insurance facility to manage climate risk, something the Alliance of Small Island States has been proposing for several years.

But researchers say there is also a need to focus on the non-economic harm caused by more extreme weather, longer-term climate shifts and rising seas.

The United Nations University and the Munich Re Foundation issued a policy brief on Tuesday urging greater attention to the role of social vulnerability and resilience in discussions on loss and damage.

"It could be that, at the political level, compensation is part of the picture, but money will never be enough - ever. And if you start by focusing on money, you might forget some other parts of the solution," said Koko Warner of the Bonn-based U.N. University Institute for Environment and Human Security.

Thomas Loster, chairman of the Munich Re Foundation, said calculations of climate risk must also include social impacts if they are to capture the real cost.

"Negotiators and the decision makers must better understand the complexity of vulnerability which is not only people killed, houses being destroyed, roads being torn away, but it is about the harm of a larger group of people," he explained.

"Fragility, political issues, poverty, unrest and all these factors are having a big influence on how strongly countries will be affected by climate change," he added.

Governments that oppose engaging in work on loss and damage might be less resistant if it were presented as solidarity with suffering countries and communities, he said.

"With this understanding - that we need to work together and share knowledge - then the political negotiators who hate the word compensation are much more open because they understand what their duty is," he said.



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