The world’s rich countries, including those in the European Union and Australia, say they strongly disagree with a proposal to include financing the impact of climate-caused disasters in Loss and Damage” negotiations in the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Bonn.
“We have to prioritize disaster, but not all disasters are fed by climate change,” said Australian negotiators in a prepared statement at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change, a follow-on to the pathbreaking Paris Agreement on climate change in October 2016.
Loss and Damage, a term used frequently in the negotiations especially by developing and least developed countries, refers to permanent losses such as lives, species, and habitat and repairable damages such as roads and other infrastructures caused by the impact of climate change impact. These are losses and damages that cannot be addressed by adaptation.
Two important discussions surrounding loss and damage are the concept of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and compensation (finance). CBDR is a principle of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that recognizes the historic responsibility of rich countries in carbon emissions and makes them liable and accountable to developing countries experiencing climate change impacts. Developing countries have asked for financial support for loss and damage, which developed countries have strongly opposed.
To the surprise of many, the loss and damage concept was included in the Paris Agreement. However, the language was regarded as watered down, with no mention of legal responsibility or financial obligations by rich countries, which are blamed for the enormous amounts of greenhouse gases passing into the atmosphere and are considered responsible for global warming. Instead, the agreement lists possible areas of cooperation such as early warning systems and insurance facilities. The finance provisions of the Paris Agreement also do not include loss and damage.
Finance for loss and damage reverberates at COP 23
COP 23 is led by Fiji, a country that has suffered from loss and damage the government says has been caused by rising temperatures and extreme weather events. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that the issue of loss and damage has been greatly raised in this round of COP negotiations. More importantly, the issue of finance has been put in the spotlight.
Developed countries, however, claim that there has been insufficient evidence to make a correlation between climate change and extreme weather events.
“It’s hard to relate specific extreme weather events to climate change. For example, the link between frequency of hurricanes and climate change is not properly defined, there is no statistical evidence,” Pierre Candelon, representative of the UNFCCC youth constituency YOUNGO explains what developed countries have argued in the last few days inside the negotiations.
“In terms of financial compensation, it’s hard to put it directly in climate change negotiations because extreme events depend on a lot of things — it depends on land use, if you destroy the mangroves or not, what kind of infrastructure you had before. It’s hard to attribute loss and damage to climate change,” Candelon added.
Loss and damage already a reality in many countries
While developed countries continue to impede loss and damage talks inside the climate negotiations, loss and damage is a lived reality in many countries. Pacific islands such as Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are sinking as sea levels rise and have bought land in neighboring countries to resettle their people. This year, the Caribbean islands Antigua and Barbuda were devastated by Hurricane Irma, leaving Barbuda empty and barely habitable. South Asian countries Bangladesh and India have seen the worst flooding in history. These are only some of the many realities developing countries have to face, and can no longer adapt to — the reasons why the same countries continue to push for loss and damage finance inside the negotiations.
However, the road will be very difficult, if not impossible. “Developed countries do not necessarily have the financial means or political will to support loss and damage,” Candelon said.
Loss and damage is being heatedly discussed at COP 23 and whether or not developed and developing countries will come to any agreement or compromise remains to be seen. Given their political clout, it appears unlikely. There is also the problem that the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – the United States – has pulled out of the conference altogether as President Donald Trump demands more favorable treatment.
Renee Juliene Kurunungan is a Philippine observer at the Bonn talks and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel