LOST: Will “lost and damage” find its way? G77 countries walk out of negotiations

With the climate talks surrounding the tragedy in the Philippines, the concept of “loss and damage” has taken center stage at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland. At some point, adaptation and mitigation fail to deal with negative climate change impacts. imagesThus, the “loss and damage” concept would assist developing countries improve risk reduction and risk assessment, build capacity building to deal with slow-onset events (i.e. sea level rise) or extreme effects (i.e. Typhoon Haiyan) of climate change in both adaptation and disaster risk and reduction (DRR) frameworks. However, talks over loss and damage at COP19 reached an impasse in the wee hours of Wednesday morning at 4 am as the G77 + China countries walked out of negotiations.

Today at almost 4am, the delegation of Bolivia and all the delegates of the G77, walked out of the…negotiation because we do not see a clear commitment of developed (country) parties to reach an agreement. They are proposing solutions or texts that in some cases are not even related to the issue,” said Rene Gonzalo Orellana Halkyer.

Under the UNFCCC, Article 2 stipulates that mitigation“…such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
After parties realized that they were not able to mitigate climate change fast enough to stop the negative impacts, they turned their focus to adaptation. In 2007, the Bali Action Plan established the ad-hoc working group on long-term cooperative action (AW-LCA), which contained a provision on “[r]isk management and risk reduction strategies…and for consideration of…strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.” The loss and damage concept remained in brackets in the Copenhagen Accord.

The concept of loss and damage gained traction in the Cancun Agreements, Decision 1/CP.16, paragraphs 26-29, where parties to the UNFCCC “recognize[d] the need to strengthen international cooperation and expertise in order to understand and reduce loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events and slow onset events…”  Then, the Doha Climate Gateway contained a legal mandate for UNFCCC Parties to establish international arrangements, such as an international mechanism, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate on developing countries. The mandate contained two provisions: (1) to establish an institutional arrangement for loss and damage and (2) to deliver content for the work program for substantive components. However, due to Russia’s blocking of the June 2013 Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) 38th meeting, much of the groundwork for addressing loss and damage has been delayed to the SBI meeting at COP 19. As a result, much of the preliminary discussions on loss and damage fell to COP 19.images-1

Over the past two weeks, the technical Party negotiators have been working around the clock to negotiate a draft text and submit a clean text without brackets. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the G77 negotiator from Bolivia, Mr. Orellana, was tired of antics by Australia to scuttlebutt constructive discussions and walked out of the meeting at 4 am. The other G77 countries followed suit. This week, before the close of COP19, the High-Level Party Delegates will attempt to hammer out a text for loss and damage, such as an international mechanism, institutional arrangement, work program or task force. However, the viewpoints of developed and developing countries still differ.

The G77 & China want a new international mechanism that recognizes “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) and for developed countries to provide finance, technology and capacity-building, in accordance with Decision 1/CP.16 and other relevant decisions to developing countries. Additionally, G77 + China want to address the “knowledge gaps” under the UNFCCC, in particular for slow-onset events, even though this expertise might be outside the UNFCCC. They want the loss and damage mechanism to be its own pillar under the UNFCCC rather than be absorbed into the adaptation pillar.

On the other hand, the European Union (EU) wants “loss and damage” to be a work program versus an international mechanism, and to have this program fall under another body in the UNFCCC, such as the Adaptation Committee. In particular, the EU wants loss and damage to be framed in the “context of national circumstances and priorities,” to strengthen understanding and expertise, improve early warning systems, and strengthen international cooperation to help countries deal with adverse impacts of climate change.

In a similar vein, the USA wants loss and damage institutional arrangement to be housed under the adaptation pillar and utilize other international agencies, such as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to coordinate efforts after extreme weather events or slow onset events. Additionally, the USA refuses to admit any liability for historical carbon emissions, especially without developing country commitments to mitigate climate change on a national level. Overall, the role of UNFCCC in the loss and damage institutional arrangement would provide expertise for dealing with risk assessment and adaptation, but not operate as a liability mechanism.

In addition, Norway proposes an international arrangement, called the “Warsaw Platform” that would straddle the USA/EU proposal and the G77 position. It could create a four-year coordination group to exchange; strengthen international cooperation and coordination through the Adaptation Forum to increase awareness and exchange knowledge and utilize other multilateral institutions, including multilateral financial institutions. Also, Norway’s proposal states that DRR and climate adaptation planning should be integrated into developing countries’ long-term planning. Risk assessment and transfer should be incorporated Finally, Norway proposes supporting and financing existing UN bodies that deal with disasters and humanitarian aid, such as OCHA.

The AOSIS proposal outlines the loss and damage as a mechanism that improves risk reduction, risk transfer (insurance), enhance knowledge networks and capacity building, provide technical and financial support, and recognizes that climate change impacts are beyond adaptation. AOSIS wants the loss and damage institutional arrangement to be a third pillar under the UNFCCC, which also includes adaptation and mitigation.

Image courtesty of Loss And Damage.net

Image courtesty of Loss And Damage.net

As an international arrangement, loss and damage would have to deal with both economic and non-economic losses, including the loss of livelihood, damage to property, food insecurity, climate migration, loss of identity, and potential human rights abuses. The potential loss and damage mechanism embodies several controversial issues. First, state Parties debate whether a state should pay for “redressability” versus “liability” for adverse affects to climate change. Second, parties have to determine whether the measuring standard is historical carbon emissions stemming from the industrial era or for the time period when scientists discovered carbon emissions and global warming. How long should this liability period be? The USA is adamant against admitting any liability.  Third, the negotiations will have to focus on whether loss and damage mechanism should cover individual persons and their rights and expectations or just an insurance payment. The potential work program or international arrangement on loss and damage presents an opportunity to incorporate more rights-based language into the UNFCCC.

Philippines post- Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by BBC News.

Philippines post- Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by BBC News.

The question becomes, then, how to help persons harmed by adverse effects of climate change, particularly for non-economic losses, which are often hard to quantify? How could loss and damage compensate a person for their loss of culture or would provide a legal status for a stateless person due to loss of homeland? Currently, negotiators discussing the loss and damage international arrangement, whether as an international mechanism with its own pillar or as a work program under adaptation, will have to design an institutional framework that will have the ability to incorporate rights-based language into the substantive components as well as a grievance mechanism in order to have effective governance. After COP 19, the UNFCCC negotiations aim to finalize discussions on loss and damage to be inserted into an international climate agreement by COP 21 in Paris, France 2015.