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Part of: Loss and damage
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'Loss and damage': a core ingredient for a legitimate new climate deal

by Sven Harmeling | CARE International
Friday, 16 October 2015 07:21 GMT

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

The life and death consequences of extreme events like El Niño show climate loss and damage is a real world problem

This year the impacts of the global weather phenomenon known as El Niño are predicted to be the worst in decades, putting at least 20 million people at risk. The countries most affected by El Niño are the world’s poorest and often the least equipped to deal with its effects.

Climate change further exacerbates extreme weather events like those stemming from El Niño, leaving the most vulnerable people and communities to deal with the “loss and damage” caused.

Positively, some 150 countries have now put their future national climate action plans on the table. But they are far from enough.

The planet is still on an extremely harmful 3 degree Celsius global warming trajectory and the current draft of the Paris climate agreement still shows no guarantee that countries will manage to keeping warming below 2, or preferably 1.5 degrees. This gap must be corrected through increased ambition to reduce emissions.

However, to a significant degree an increase in climate impacts is inevitable. Given this, how governments address rising temperatures, related disasters and gradual changes such as long-term sea-level rise is key to determining the legitimacy of the entire Paris agreement.

When sea level rises, dikes can keep the water away from land in some cases and help people adapt. But in other places, land is permanently lost or inundated, causing salty soils and water supplies, and poor harvests.

The outcome of the U.N. climate summit (COP21) in Paris cannot be fair and equitable without progress on addressing this issue. The life and death consequences of extreme events like El Niño already make too apparent that loss and damage is a real world problem that we need to deal with now, not later.

The establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism on loss and damage (WIM) at the U.N. climate summit in 2013 was a historic milestone despite the many controversies it provoked between those most vulnerable and those most responsible for climate change. It gave developing countries a signal that they will not be left alone to deal with loss and damage.

The first working meeting of the WIM took place this September - the task at hand is to implement the two-year work plan that was agreed by governments last December in Lima. The WIM will have to include broad expertise from various institutions to live up to expectations.

The next two years will lay the groundwork for the next phase of the mechanism, providing the opportunity to build a bridge to a more sustainable future once the Paris agreement enters into force.


In September, a group of developed countries – the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland – made a proposal on loss and damage at the climate talks in Bonn. They suggested that the WIM would develop guidance for comprehensive risk management, address issues related to climate change displacement and migration, and establish a clearing house for risk transfer, for example through insurance instruments.

But with the exception of the last point, all of these are already part of the WIM’s work and offer nothing new to the discussions.

The G77 group and China - representing 134 countries - continue to demand that loss and damage should be in the legal core agreement to be finalised in Paris. Their proposal is to build on the WIM, and also establish a climate change displacement coordination facility.

So what’s next? There’s no guarantee that either of these proposals will become reality, but it is an encouraging signal that loss and damage is given a distinct place in the latest draft of the Paris agreement. This should ensure it will not fall off the table in future negotiations. But it is concerning that the text misses out details on how loss and damage is determined. And who is going to pay?

It is difficult to judge at this stage if the WIM will be able to address the key needs relating to loss and damage, but the legitimate demands of vulnerable developing countries cannot be ignored as for them it is an issue of life and death.

Including loss and damage in the Paris agreement, and ensuring adequate institutional arrangements and financial and technical support can make the WIM effective and operational. And the more the rich and most responsible countries reduce their emissions and provide adaptation support, the less they will have to be concerned about paying for the consequences.

Although many questions remain unanswered and countries disagree on several issues, what is clear is that loss and damage is now one of the key issues at the climate talks. The legitimacy of the new climate agreement will also depend on how loss and damage is treated.

Not everything lost or damaged can be repaired but it is an injustice to rob the poorest and most vulnerable from the safeguards they deserve.