Loss and Damage

Gita Parihar

15 November 2013

I explain what Loss and Damage is, why the stakes are so high, and what’s going on right now at the talks.

I’m in Warsaw, at the latest round of international talks on climate change. “Loss and Damage” is high on the agenda, and it’s controversial. 

Because of decades of glacial progress by Governments there is now a good deal of climate change we cannot avoid. Impacts such as rising sea levels and severe storms are already hitting the world's most vulnerable people, hard. The backdrop to this year’s negotiations is Typhoon Haiyan, the worst storm ever to make landfall. 

Sadly, it is becoming the norm for climate talks to be held against the backdrop of severe weather events. This is why “Loss and Damage” is one of the main issues on the agenda at these talks –  it is about the central issue of what to do about the climate change impacts we can no longer avoid. 

Loss and Damage has been on the agenda for many years in different guises, but progress has been tortuously slow.  At the last talks in Doha in 2012 it was agreed that there would be “institutional arrangements” put in place at the Warsaw talks this fortnight.

Developing countries are pushing for a mechanism which will have a range of functions:

  • to provide oversight and coordination of activities relating to loss and damage;
  • to build resilience on the part of communities; and
  • to provide compensation and address non-economic loss such as cultural losses.

Such functions will increasingly be needed in future as climate impacts worsen, and countries’ compensation contributions to the fund should be based on historical responsibility for the problem. It is developed countries who have the greatest historical responsibility for climate change. Predictably, countries like the United States and Australia are refusing to accept such conditions. Countries like the UK have not yet publicly stated their position.

Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for a mechanism which is hard-wired into the international climate process, and which includes language which will allow for compensation to developing countries. Friends of the Earth here in the UK is calling on the UK Secretary of State Ed Davey to side with developing countries rather than the USA, and ensure that a mechanism is agreed.

At the talks, things seem to be going backwards. Despite the heart-rending words of Yeb Saño, lead climate negotiator to the Philippines, who has been joined by tens of activists in his fast for climate action, countries such as Australia are saying that they will not support a mechanism. Their discussions on the issue are being held behind closed doors, with civil society shut out of the room. Three members of Friends of the Earth have been banned from the negotiations, simply for holding a banner expressing their support for Yeb Saño and drawing attention to the number of lives lost this year and last in the Philippines.               

Loss and Damage would be a much smaller issue if countries had got their act together two decades ago. The longer developed nations keep delaying meaningful action on climate, the greater the role that will need to be played by a loss and damage mechanism. They must now take action resolutely and definitively on both counts. 

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