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COP21 Guide #7: Loss & Damage

Loss and damage is about dealing with the impacts of extreme weather events as well as slow-onset events. It in effect the result of the failure to prevent climate change and of not committing to enough mitigation, therefore increasing the impossibility to adapt. However it is not a new issue, it has been on the UNFCCC table since 1991. It was originally proposed by the small island state of Vanuatu as an insurance process to compensate against sea level rise. Nevertheless, it was not until the 2007 COP in Bali that we started to associate loss and damage with climate change impacts and it was not until 2010 that the UNFCCC requested one of its bodies (the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, SBI) to take up the issue and make recommendations at the following COP in Durban on its work programme. This included three thematic areas: risk assessment, ranges of approaches to loss and damage, and the role of the convention. The following year, in Doha, the decision to establish ‘institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism’ was passed within the context of a two-fold objective, increasing ambition on mitigation and adaptation to avoid loss and damage and creating an international mechanism for loss and damage.

Loss and damage was one of the main issues of COP19 in Warsaw. There were two sides, one (developing countries) wanting to establish a mechanism, the other (developed countries) wanting to build on existing institutional arrangements. The main difference between those two platforms is the amount of resources that is devoted to the matter. A mechanism would mean the creation of a whole new body within the UNFCCC process (like for the Clean Development Mechanisms, CDM), which would have its own budget, experts, research, and finance. Institutional arrangements would only look at building on the current relationship between the parties of the COP and will look mostly at emergency relief, which therefore excludes slow-onset events. Emergency relief also exclude non-economic losses (i.e. losses of culture, livelihood, life) and there is even a danger that countries will redirect development aid (mostly loans) towards emergency relief and not encapsulate the difference between natural and climate change induced events. This would also avoid the questions of compensating countries based on historical emissions. On the very last day of the negotiations, this issue ended in a confrontation between the US and the Philippines who respectively represented the two sides of the world. It was decided as a compromise to create the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) but that it would come under the Cancun Adaptation Framework and not within its own framework. However, this status along with its review, structure and effectiveness will be reviewed in 2016.

At COP20 in Lima, the UNFCCC adopted the initial 2-year work-plan of the Executive Committee of the WIM and finalised its organisation and governance of its Executive Committee. However this work-plan only includes ‘enhancing understanding knowledge on loss and damage, slow onset events, non-economic losses and risk management’; and basically no concrete impactful action, only vague notions of finance. We can now only hope that this 2-year research plan will lead COP22 to help strengthen this mechanism.

This articles is part of our COP climate guide. The other articles in this series are:

  1. What is at stake in Paris?
  2. Human rights and climate change
  3. Climate financing
  4. Differentiation
  5. Mitigation
  6. Adaption
  7. Loss and damage

Learn more about the climate negotiations from FYEG's COP report which you can download here.