Loss and Damage Summary

typhoon cloudA new mechanism for dealing with climate change’s worst impacts is in the works.  The proposed text for the Loss and Damage Mechanism (LDM) discussed during the first week of COP19 would require developed countries to compensate developing countries for the losses and damages incurred due to climate change. It’s not mitigation or adaptation per se: it is in its own category.

LDM emerged from the Bali talks in 2007, when parties realized that mitigation commitments would not do enough to prevent climate change.  Thus the Bali Action Plan called for “risk management and risk reduction strategies…and for consideration of…strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.”  At COP16, the parties established a work program to consider how to address loss and damage of the most vulnerable developing countries, and at COP17, they reached consensus on this SBI program’s elements.  Parties agreed in Doha at COP18 to establish “institutional arrangements” to address loss and damage to these countries at COP19.

In SBI informal consultations late this week that excluded NGO observers, the Alliance of Small Islandhaiyan image States (AOSIS) argued for UNFCCC management of LDM and dedicated funding from a source other than adaptation funding.  Like AOSIS, the G77+ China requested UNFCCC oversight, and explicitly asked for a methodical response to loss and damage from extreme weather events and slow onset events.  The G77 also pointed out that developed country parties had not fulfilled their COP16 promise of money, technology, and capacity-building for developing countries.

In contrast, the EU prefers to work within the existing UNFCCC structures, and the US does not want to admit any financial liability. Norway is the only donor country offering specifics, advocating for a flexible approach to different circumstances and proposing a four-year coordination group of representatives from the Adaptation Committee, Least Developed Country Expert Group, Technology Committee, and Consultative Group of Experts.  Norway also encourages developing countries to add climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to their long term planning and development schemes.



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?

The Secret Life of Bogs

Wetlands are the unloved carbon sink. They’re smelly, muddy and awkward to walk in. They make for mediocre farmland and worse development.

I wouldn't build a summer home here

I wouldn’t build a summer home here


Still, wetlands are huge carbon sinks. Half of all wetlands are peatlands.  A prominent peat scientist remarks that “Peatland is 95 percent water. This means that peat is wetter than milk but you can walk over it. It’s the closest you can get to Jesus Christ.” Peatlands collectively store two times the carbon stored by the world’s forests. Degraded peatlands release carbon. The stored high carbon soils react to oxygen exposure by decomposing suddenly. This sudden decomposition releases most of the carbon that was in the soil in the form of carbon dioxide.


Peatlands are plagued by several factors, both targeted and incidental. Climate change and the resulting temperature rise (already affecting the Arctic) reduces peatlands incidentally. Permafrost, which can extend several meters underground thaws. Ice takes up more volume than water, so the thawed peatland is not as deep. All of the structures built on the surface (houses, roads) sink into the ground.

Depending on the land

Depending on the land

Peatlands are targeted for small drainage agriculture. Even though they don’t work well as farmland, there is an assumption that it is better to be useful farmland than “useless” wetland. Drainage of peatlands for palm oil is why tiny Indonesia was the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007. Most emissions from peatlands are not reported.

Not an improvement

Not an improvement


Peat fires make peatlands carbon emission timebombs. Once a fire starts in peatland, it is very hard to stop. The fire can smolder for years under the surface. Peeling back the top of the layer in order to expose the fire simply feeds the flame by providing more oxygen.


This is the fire that never ends

This is the fire that never ends

Peatland can be reclaimed by the process of “rewetting”. There are only a few projects running. Russia started a project to re-wet the wetlands around Moscow. The summer of 2010 brought many peat fires around Moscow. The resulting smog killed many people. The rewetting project was an emergency measure to protect Moscow.

Currently the UNFCCC does nothing about peatlands. Forests are also carbon sinks, but they are explicitly protected under REDD+. Restoring peatland does not have the high profile of reducing deforestation, increasing renewable energy or implementing adaptation. Conserving the remaining peatlands and restoring the others is necessary to keep a huge volume of carbon out of the atmosphere. It is time to begin the unglamorous work of restoring the peatland.



Dilemmas within REDD+: It’s Hard to be the Good One

In theory REDD+ is simple: Communities are paid to conserve their forests instead of logging them. Further up, countries get credit for reducing their rate of deforestation.

In practice, it creates some moral dilemmas for the virtuous community that conserves its forest. Consider a hypothetical group of 100 communities in a forested area.


There is a 3% rate of deforestation. It’s easy to identify the communities who did log their plots. Here’s the kicker: which of the 97 communities that conserved their forest should get the credit? Should the credit go to communities who were going to log but decided not to or the communities who planned to keep their area forested? How do we know who was telling the truth?


Credit can be given based on how much a community has improved (reduced its deforestation rate). Here, the virtuous community is screwed. A community with a baseline of 30% deforestation can easily improve to acquire REDD+ credits. If a community has conserved fully, it has a deforestation rate of 0%. It can’t get any better, so it gets nothing.


Moreover many drivers of deforestation are beyond the control of local communities. A farmer sitting on marginal soil next to the Amazon may slash and burn the rainforest to grow enough food so their family doesn’t starve. Meanwhile, a nearby rancher decides to log the rainforest to increase grazing land for her cattle and get a slightly higher profit on her beef. Should they be treated the same?

We’re Going to Party Like There’s Nothing Going On

At the end of the first day, COP 19 threw a party to welcome everyone and give the parties a chance to talk to each other. I went alone because the rest of my team did not feel like going out tonight.

When architects get bored When I walked into the Warsaw University Library, the organizers had lit it with green lights. As I went up the imposing marble stairs, I passed through 4 pillars with statues on the top. (I later learned they were important Polish philosophers). An unnerving spiderweb sculpture took over the entryway.

warsaw university libraryphilosophers

As I was flying solo, I joined a group from Maine who is representing the American Chemical Society. We were quickly joined by the representative from an unnamed Arab kingdom, who had a hard job advocating small wind and solar projects in a country, he says, that prefers mega projects.

girls from maine

Me with the Maine group working with the ACS.

A Polish singer belted a very passionate song. At the end of her set, two acrobats started climbing and doing tricks with aerial silks. They’re called the Ocelot Group.Mad skills

Following them was a band called Recycling Band, who made their instruments out of empty water coolers and bike gears. Their style was reminiscent of early Radiohead.


The MacGyvers of Polish RockSome very serious Southeast Asian delegates made up the front row watching the rock band. They stood there motionless like they were waiting in an elevator. Eventually, with persistence, a representative from the African Climate Initiative persuaded a Bangladeshi representative to dance. It was glorious. I also met the rep from Mozambique and bonded with the whole Bangladeshi delegation in the universal language of dance.

bangledesh and ITomorrow, I will have meetings with Bangledeshi, as well as some of the African delegates. This doesn’t translate directly to the issues I’m tracking (safeguards with results-based finance, mostly REDD+), but they are good contacts nonetheless.

While we were attending a very full day of meetings about agenda topics inside the National Stadium, the people outside marked the November 11 Polish Independence Day with demonstrations.

warsaw riots 2It is Polish National Day and Warsaw was rioting Far right protesters marched to “denounce the slip of traditional values” and Russia’s role in a plane crash that killed the Polish president in 2010. They tried to torch the Russian consulate. Within our COP 19 bubble, we didn’t notice. It only felt its impact when the buses stopped running. I took a cab from the venue because the streets weren’t safe. It seems like every time I go to a COP there is rioting in the streets…

 warsaw riots



Gearing up for COP19

I am eager to go back to a COP. My first and only COP was COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. I went as the Policy Director for the Cascade Climate Network which is a regional super organization of youth activists from environmental groups in Oregon and Washington. It did not go well. I was thrown out along with the other NGOs into the cold of a Danish winter. Luckily, some Danish anarchists let my delegation stay in their concrete bunker for the rest of the COP. Our whole strategy was dependent on us being in the venue. We overhauled our approach and focused on building awareness and political pressure in real time from supporters in the US. The whole experience was jarring to me and caused me to refocus on local environmental issues for a while.


I am currently a second year JD/Master of Environmental Law and Policy candidate at Vermont Law School. I also am a Research Associate at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, focusing on how environmental data is used during permitting for Arctic oil drilling.

Gearing up for COP19

My hobby is boxing


I will be working with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) on safeguarding forests and forest livelihoods. My role is to flit from meeting to meeting and take notes so that CIEL is aware of all of the developments regarding safeguards in results-based finance. Currently, forest protection under the UNFCCC is based on the REDD+ (link) mechanism. There is a debate about how much of the finance should be tied to results, how strict the safeguards should be, when they should kick in, and how they will be monitored. Non-carbon benefits aren’t included now, but may be added into the REDD+ mechanism. Indigenous groups are pushing for more participation as equal partners, stewards and monitors.


I am looking forward to having a real (indoors!) COP experience.