Loss and Damage
WHAT IS LOSS AND DAMAGE?
The UNFCCC has defined loss and damage (L&D) to include harms resulting from sudden-onset events such as floods,cyclones as well as slow-onset processes such as sea level rise and drought etc. Loss and Damage (L&D) corresponds to the unavoidable impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The modification of the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere by human activity generates a perturbation in the climate system of our planet, and causes some extreme and unpredictable events such as floods, hurricanes, or droughts; others, slow and on-going such as sea-level rise.
The global community has committed, with the UNFCCC, to mitigate climate change to a level that will not harm humanity and its environment, and to adapt to the effects of climate change. But it has now been proven that it is too late: many populations are already suffering from the effects of climate change.
In particular, least developed countries (LDCs) are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change, even though they are the least contributors to it. For example, the number of people displaced (or migrating) because of climate change is increasing every year. In 2017, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center recorded 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements.
HOW IS LOSS AND DAMANGE ADDRESSED BY THE UNFCCC?
The Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damages associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) is to address loss and damages from both sides of the spectrum, from extreme weather events or slow onset events. Its functions include:
Facilitate support of action to address loss and damages (L&D)
Analyze and review information and data associated with L&D
Enhance knowledge on risk management
Provide technical guidance and support
The Executive Committee (ExComm) is tasked with guiding the implementation of the functions of the WIM – Enhancing knowledge and understanding, strengthening dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies, as well as enhancing action and support. The ExComm is set into 5 expert groups and one task force focusing on strategic workstreams:
Comprehensive Risk Management (TEG-CRM)
Non-Economic Losses (NELs)
Slow-Onset Events (SOEs)
Displacement and migration (TFD); and
Action and Support (ASEG)
A SHORT HISTORY OF LOSS AND DAMAGE AT THE UNFCCC PROCESSES
PRE COP 21
The need for a Loss and Damage mechanism was raised by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) as early as 1992. The group of small island countries had already anticipated their territory being submerged by the rising sea levels; and expected a form of support, both financial and technical, from the countries most responsible for climate change.
It was only in 2010 at COP16 that the UNFCCC first mentioned loss and damage. Under the push of AOSIS and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) coalition, a decision was taken to recognize 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” (UNFCCC (2010). Decision 1/CP.16).
Following two years of deliberations on this issue, COP19 (November 2013) established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) associated with Climate Change Impacts, as the main vehicle under the Convention to promote the implementation of approaches to address loss and damages.
For developing countries, it became urgent that loss and damage was recognized as an unavoidable issue and to form the 3rd pillar of the Paris Agreement with Mitigation, Adaptation they perceived L&D as an issue of liability and compensation from the countries responsible for climate change to the most impacted countries for the damages caused by climate change.
But developed countries, in particular, the EU and the US, were opposed to any form of compensation mechanism within the UNFCCC. They also argued that loss and damage belonged to the Adaptation pillar of the Paris Agreement. They wanted to see the scope of L&D limited to risk management and reduction options.
After weeks of advocating, developing countries and small islands states got to have the topic of loss and damages in the Paris Agreement separated from the adaptation section. Loss and Damage is now an independent article (Article 8 of the PA). However, the decision 1/CP.21 that completes the Paris Agreement says that L&D cannot be financially compensated.
In addition, Parties asked the Executive Committee of the WIM to implement:
A Clearing House for Risk Transfer that serves as a repository for information on insurance and risk transfer, in order to facilitate the efforts of Parties to develop and implement comprehensive risk management strategies.
A Task Force to develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacements related to the adverse impacts of climate change.
The Task Force is to complement existing bodies and expert groups under the Convention including the Adaptation Committee and the LDC Expert Group, as well as relevant organizations and expert bodies outside the Convention.
POST COP 21
Developing countries came to COP23 (2017) with two main pledges regarding Loss and Damages: They wanted it to be a permanent item on the Subsidiary Body of Implementation’s (SBI) agenda and wanted to set up predictable and dedicated financial mechanisms in order to implement effective actions. Only one of the two pledges made it as the COP agreed to request the Secretariat to organize, in conjunction with SB 48, an expert dialogue on loss and damage, and encourage Parties to disseminate, promote and utilize WIM products, including by establishing a loss and damage contact point through UNFCCC national focal points. This dialogue was poorly organised and not a lot of Parties came and it led to no concrete conclusions. Many SIDS and developing countries considered it a failure and officially expressed their dissatisfaction.
The 9th ExCom meeting, which happened in 2019, mostly dealt with the establishment of the Terms Of Reference of the Task Force on Displacement, working on the issue of climate change induced mobility.
At COP 24 in Katowice, developing countries, and in particular LDCs and Island states have been fighting for L&D to have recognition, and to be considered as an independent topic within negotiations (currently, it is often considered a subtopic of adaptation) and inside the rulebook, in the global stocktake section and in the transparency section.
There was a big disappointment with what was described as continued sidelining of the issue of loss and damage. The urgency to provide real financial support became an urgent issue.
In the end, the rulebook mentions this question in several places, though with less weight than many had hoped. The global stocktake rules do add loss and damage to the mix, having at one point in the talks relegated the issue to a footnote. The stocktake rules now say it “may take into account, as appropriate…efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”. The transparency rules also say countries “may, as appropriate” report on loss and damage.
At COP 25 (2019) in Madrid, The Warsaw International Mechanism was reviewed against its initial objectives: enhancing knowledge and understanding, strengthening dialogue, and enhancing action and support including finance, technology and capacity building. Negotiations were very heated on the topic of L&D funding. Developing countries were urging for new, additional and adequate funding specifically for Loss and Damage. But the US managed to water down the talks. Parties agreed to create a “Santiago Network” to facilitate technical support for vulnerable countries facing L&D.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT STAKES?
Finance is the major and most urgent issue for Loss and Damage at the moment. The UNFCCC negotiation tables are split between developing and vulnerable countries that require new additional and adequate funding to cope with the unavoidable impacts of climate change; and developed countries which refuse to take the responsibility of climate change induced events. The next COPs (COP26 and onwards) are expected to be a battlefield for this issue.
Another unresolved issue is whether the Warsaw International Mechanism should operate under the COP (the UNFCCC supreme body) or the CMA (the Paris Agreement supreme body). Both agreements have recognized the WIM, its work and its functions, but not under the same conditions. Under the push of the US, the Paris Agreement was made more restrictive on the establishment of compensation and liability. The US is therefore pushing for the WIM to be only under the Paris Agreement regime; which is ironic since the US will soon officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement. For that reason, developing countries want the WIM to be under the COP regime only.
TO GO FURTHER
A lot of useful resources about Loss and Damages here.
You can find all the relevant documents for WIM ExComm meetings here. We advise people following this topic to read the Task Force on Displacement Terms of Reference and the five years rolling work plan of ExComm.
We recommend the reading of the Loss and Damage section of this summary article on COP 25 negotiations.
Mace M.J. and Verheyen R. (2016). Loss, Damage and Responsibility after COP21: All Options Open for the Paris Agreement. Reciel 25 (2).
UNHCR (2020). Climate Change and Disaster Displacement. (online) Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/climate-change-and-disasters.html
UNFCCC (2010). Decision 1/CP.16
UNFCCC (2018). Report of the Suva Expert Dialogue. (online) Available at: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/SUVA%20Report_ver_13_Nov.pdf
Nandi J. (2018). “COP24 Talks: Some countries unhappy with Paris rulebook, say it doesn’t mention urgency of climate change”. Hindustan Times. (online) Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/cop24-talks-least-developed-countries-unhappy-with-paris-rulebook-say-it-doesn-t-mention-urgency-of-climate-change/story-FooO55xbb3bZDuq2IKmeWO.html
Evans S. (2018) Twitter thread. (online) Available at: https://twitter.com/DrSimEvans/status/1073601375253221377
Carbon Brief (2019). COP25: Key outcomes agreed at the UN Climate talks in Madrid. (online) Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop25-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-madrid
Loss and Damage book by Mechler et al: https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319720258