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'Landing zone' in sight for loss and damage?

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 22 November 2013 13:47 GMT

Survivors stand by messages asking for help for their community in an area totally devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban on November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Momentum seems to be building for a deal at UN climate talks

If there's no deal on setting up a new body to help poor nations deal with climate losses and damage here at the U.N. climate change talks in Warsaw, will there be anything substantial to call a success? That's one of the arguments the poorest countries are hoping will spur richer nations to give ground and agree to create a new mechanism for loss and damage.

The South African minister co-chairing the discussions told the conference on Thursday night she hoped to find a "landing zone" on loss and damage, and ministers were meeting on the issue on Friday.

Some 130 developing countries have called for a separate mechanism to produce new expertise, coordinate activities and help vulnerable countries cope with the aftermath of extreme weather events and address more gradual impacts, such as loss of territory, land spoiled by saltwater intrusion and creeping deserts.

But many rich countries and regions - including the United States, Norway and the European Union - have said they want to deal with the issue under work on climate change adaptation, fearing a new body could lead to fresh demands for financial reparation from the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The European Union proposed a group or taskforce that would be led and coordinated by the Adaptation Committee of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - similar to what the United States said it wants. Norway suggested a four-year working group, also under the Adaptation Committee.

U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern explained this week why the United States thinks loss and damage should be dealt with by the UNFCCC's adaptation experts.

"If you look at what's involved in loss and damage, there is a lot of it that is exactly the same kinds of things people have been focusing on in adaptation - it's...(disaster) preparedness, risk reduction and dealing with impacts and the like," he said.

"There are some elements...like slow-onset events, like sea-level rise, that at least some countries regard as over and above, or beyond what people have traditionally talked about as adaptation. But it is essentially within that sphere. So that's the main reason why we think they should be linked."

But on Friday he said: “I hope we come away with something good on this."

"We are for (an entity of some kind) under the broad rubric of adaptation… We are not trying to create a third pillar of climate change but we are quite supportive of the general concept of having some intensified focus as embodied in a new entity.”


Climate and development expert argue that losses and damage occur when people are not able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, or when adaptation has reached its limits, and should therefore be handled separately.

Tony de Brum, head of delegation for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told the conference his Pacific island nation has been hit by both drought and floods this year. "Mine is a country where the ocean is rising faster than anywhere else in the world, where the coral beneath our feet is being eaten away, and where the window of opportunity to secure our long-term survival feels like it is closing before our eyes," he said in a speech.

"What were once distant threats are quickly becoming our new reality. However valid our concerns, we are continually directed to the next door down the hall and, it seems, all the doors are closed. For this reason, we cannot proceed a step beyond Warsaw without a real and meaningful outcome on loss and damage," he added.

Speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the talks, he conceded there may be a need for a compromise that would allow vulnerable countries to feel progress is being made, while richer states "are not tied to anything they can't swallow".

Saleemul Huq, who works closely with negotiators from least developed countries and is director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said he thought wealthy governments might sign up to an independent loss and damage mechanism if developing states promised not to talk about financial compensation - even though many of them are keen to do so.

"I think (an agreement) is within reach. We need to leave Warsaw with something that both sides can spin as a win," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We're willing to say it's not about compensation... There's not much else here (at Warsaw). This could be the one thing they can succeed on."

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