The tale of Loss and Damage

Once upon a time, back in the nineties, current negotiators were younger, and some of us were not even born. In those times they realised of two things: that climate was unexpectedly changing, and that globalization was great for business.

Back in those days, we missed the opportunity to create an economic system that respected the environment and the people. The free trade religion was established, we started to produce where it was cheaper, and we seemed to forget about the climate.

Are we forgetting about it now too?

Back in those days they invented something called mitigation. ‘We need to reduce emissions in order to live in a safe and friendly planet’ – they said. And the Kyoto protocol was created, and developed countries agreed on saving the world while consuming fossil fuels.

Without even thinking that could happen, the effects of climate change started to be noticeable around the world. ‘Oh! It was supposed to be something much more in the future!’ – they said. But reality was slapping them in the face.

Developing countries, when they saw that their structural vulnerability and climate conditions made them the most affected, demanded something called ‘adaptation’. In the beginning nobody was convinced. ‘This is only about greenhouse gases!’ – they said. But reality was there again, and adaptation was thought and rethought, and nowadays it is one of the most important blocks of the UNFCCC.

But we were too late again, and some big things started to happen. Typhoons and hurricanes were bigger and stronger than ever, floods and droughts happened in unprecedented ways. Climate weirdening was here.

Developing countries, again, when they saw their structural vulnerability and climate conditions, demanded something called ‘Loss and Damage’. In the beginning nobody was convinced. ‘This should go under adaptation!’ – they said.

But we were so late mitigating and adapting to climate change, that the consequences were so big in countries that didn’t cause the problem, that you could not even adapt to them.

And here we are, in the current times, still trying to change the world while consuming fossil fuels.

What are we pretending to do about it?

Last year, in COP19 in Warsaw, something called the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was created. It is an institutional framework to respond to the unmitigated impacts of climate change in a ‘comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner’. The Mechanism legitimises long-standing demands and concerns of the small islands and other particularly vulnerable states and it has three mandates: enhance knowledge of risk management approaches to loss and damage; strengthen dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies among parties; and enhance action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building to address loss and damage.

As we can see, especially as typhoon Hagupit lands in the Philippines as the previous three years Haiyan, Bopha and Washi did, Loss and Damage is very important. It is a matter of life of death. Then, you would think that negotiations around the topic are going really smooth. Not really.

Progress on Loss and Damage has been slow. In the beginning of COP20, delegates were discussing if re-opening or not the workplan that was agreed the previous year. There was criticism about the lack of strength of the workplan by AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) and other developing states, especially regarding finance, technology and capacity building.

The workplan has finally remained as it was the previous years, but two main issues are still concern us regarding Loss and Damage.

First of all, negotiators cannot agree on the composition of the Executive Committee of this mechanism. Developing countries are arguing to have sufficient representation in this committee, since they are the most affected ones. However, developed countries, especially the US, are pushing back and proposing other compositions that are less favourable for the developing countries. Due to this lack of agreement, there has been a proposal by Nicaragua of enabling the provisional executive committee that was set up last year to start the workplan, ensuring that parties will agree on a definitive one by March.

Secondly, parties have to ensure that Loss and Damage will be a separated part under the coming 2015 agreement in Paris. Some developed countries are pushing for it being simply a part of adaptation, when we have seen that it is impossible to adapt to some of the consequences of climate change.

There is still a week to go, and our dear negotiators can still achieve an agreement in the second part of this tale called the climate change negotiations. They can still pretend to save the world while consuming fossil fuels.
For it to have a happy ending for everyone we need to ensure that decisions around the executive committee are not postponed and that developing countries have a crucial position in it. Moreover, emphasis needs to be put in the importance of anchoring Loss and Damage as the third pillar of this new agreement.

We are doing things late, very late. But at least, let’s do it well, please.

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