It’s Time for Pragmatists: The Case for a Loss and Damage Mechanism

Rome is getting warmer too

Rome is getting warmer too

Here in Warsaw, countries are clamoring to arrange a climate change agreement that doesn’t constrain them too much. They are wrestling with the question of how much adaptation and mitigation there should be. There are many talking points about “If we do X, there will be decreased crop yields!” If we don’t do Y, there will be a higher probability of catastrophic flooding!”

Meanwhile, a pragmatist can argue that these debates are beside the point. Climate change damages are already happening. In some cases, we may be beyond adaptation. How does an islander “adapt” to their island disappearing? How do you adapt to grazing lands turning into deserts?

Adaptation is a failure of mitigation. Loss and damage is a failure of adaptation. Adaptation is when you can prevent the impact. Loss and damage is used when the impact has already happened.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Climate change is like a loaded dice. You never know when you get a six if it happens because of themanipulated dice. But sixes happen more and more. Similarly, we don’t know that Typhoon Haiyan was because of climate change, but climate change makes typhoons/floods happen more and more, Typhoon Haiyan has affected 11.5 million people  and displaced 670,000 people.“Ad-hoc-ism” is not going to work. The humanitarian response can’t cover all of the disasters and damages that will become more and more frequent. The world rallied to cover the disaster in Haiti. Will it react as generously when the next typhoon Haiyan hits?

It’s time to compensate people for the losses and damages that have already happened. In 1991, the tiny island of Vanautu presented a bold proposal for insurance of island states that compensated against sea level rise. The need is overdue more than 20 years later.

diceA loss and damage mechanism is not as simple as it sounds. If a person has to move houses 30 times in a decade, what exactly can we compensate? Compensation is just one part of it. Generating knowledge is also important to reestablish maintainable livelihoods.

Luckily, parties are mobilizing to create this mechanism. The main COP argues that the science is still unfinished. Should we wait for the perfect science until we make a loss and damage mechanism?