Negotiating Loss and Damage at Paris Climate Conference


Logically, the frequency of occurrences of tropical cyclones (typhoons) or unexpected weather during last quarter of each year would have accelerated some sort of resolve on issues in climate cauldron especially loss and damage during UN sponsored climate talks. The tropical cyclone Koppu (Lando) slammed the island nation-Philippines just a day before the Bonn Climate Change Conference (October 19-23). Strom Patricia, strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea, though receded on landfall, could have brought huge losses in Mexico, a day after the Conference. Back home in India, record breaking incessant rains during November and early December, which have crippled the Chennai city for more than two weeks, has already linked to climate change by Prime Minister Modi, who had a different opinion last year on climate change, in his routine monthly talks. Will such disasters and weather anomalies compel countries to mend their differences on ‘loss and damage’ (L&D) at Paris-venue for ongoing 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?


For last half a decade, recurring tropical cyclones which hit Philippines around this time would have, technically and arguably, influence the outcome of climate change negotiations. Since 2008, the island nation struck by eight major cyclones destroying $ US 6 Billion worth of physical property and killed nearly 10,000 lives. Even, the ace negotiator from Philippines who had added new strategies to international environmental negotiations - passion and fasting- when super Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban city in 2013, has been a lone ranger demanding reparation as climate justice from developed countries. Despite scientific consensus of such byproducts of climate change in terms of disasters, developed countries are evading their responsibilities by resorting to definitional and technical liabilities of L&D.  However, the inadequacy of mentioning of L&D in the First Draft (non-paper) which was released on 5th October was such example of running away from responsibilities.


According to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report The Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes 1970-2012, total 8,835 disasters such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics killed 1.94 million people with US$ 2.4 trillion worth of economic losses during last 32 years. This estimation is only physical and economic losses. However, 2013 UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded that direct and indirect losses from hazards have been underestimated by at least 50 per cent.


How about the estimation of non-economic, indirect and inter-generational loss and damages? These are texts which broadly liked even not demanded by Vulnerable 20 (forum of 20 most climate change vulnerable countries) and at best, avoided by developed countries especially the US. These questions and concerns from most climate vulnerable countries especially Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) have not been adequately and fairly answered by industrialized countries since 1992 (Rio Summit) and subsequently under UNFCCC. The Bali Action Plan adopted in Bali COP in 2007 which called for considering strategies and approaches to address loss and damage under Article 4.8 of UNFCCC referring to insurance as tool to ‘meet the specific needs and concerns of developing country parties arising from the adverse effects of climate change’. At COP 14 in Poznan, the AOSIS presented a proposal for a Multi-Window Mechanism to address L&D which was not included in the negotiating text. After a year in Copenhagen, despite risk reduction and insurance tools were part of a draft negotiation text, the Copenhagen Accord did not mention L&D at all.


After high drama and a walkout during Cancun COP, the L&D was first officially introduced in the 2010 Cancun Adaptation Framework. The developed and developing countries maintained divergent views on L&D, its institutional mechanism and fund. Following two years of high emotions and passion laden negotiations, COP 19 (2013) established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage as the institution under UNFCCC to promote the implementation of approaches in a ‘comprehensive, integrated and coherent’ manner.


As per UNFCCC text, loss refers to ‘negative impacts in relation to which reparation or restoration is impossible’ while damage refers to ‘negative impacts in relation to which reparation or restoration is possible’. L&D incorporates climate change related loss and damages which have not been avoided through mitigation or adaptation so far. The bones of contentions are on addressing incurred and future loss and damage, non-economic dimensions, inclusion with or separation from adaptation, liability and responsibility, compensation regime and funds etc. Above and beyond such issues which to be stemmed out or not through negotiations in Bonn and later in Paris, the funding for L&D would remain the most important dimension of disagreement.  


India, off late pitch for climate justice, has maintained that ‘link between adaptation, disaster risk reduction and loss and damage is important’ as mentioned in Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted early this October. While reiterating the road map existing under Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2013), India demands an urgent need for finance to undertake activities for early warning system, disaster risk reduction, loss and damage and capacity building at all levels in India. The drawback of Sendai Framework is that setting aside principles and guidelines for international financial support, there is no commitment or obligation for extending finances by developed countries except from Japan. Developed countries are and will be continuing to harp on funding issues to create fissures among G-77 + China, AOSIS (SIDS) and V20.


There is no institutional arrangement focusing specifically on addressing the non-economic losses associated with climate change impacts in the world. The ‘liability’ is the word which every international or national institution hates most. The international financial institutions (IFIs)- World Bank and ADB- which consider their policies and mechanisms are progressive and higher standards have also failed to take into account of indirect, non-economic and intergenerational loss. For example, the Safeguard Policy Statement (2009) of ADB while acknowledging direct, physical and economic loss from its administered and assisted projects to compensate, it has evaded taking responsibility of indirect, non-economic (social dimensions) and psychological loss. 


Like IFIs, Indian government does not estimate non-economic dimensions of L&D in disasters as well as in any developmental projects which supposed to displace people and harm environment. As per the existing scheme of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) / National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), only financial assistance provides towards relief and not for compensation of loss. The relief fund is to assist the affected persons to start their economic activities again.


The L&D will remain the stark reality of unequal world at UNFCCC. The WIM will be subject to review at the 22nd COP in 2016 on its structure, mandate and effectiveness. Finding appropriate approaches to loss and damage and scientific measuring methods will go beyond 2016. Shall UNFCCC wait for more number of disasters to agree on ‘loss and damage’? 

Author Note
Avilash Roul, Senior Fellow at Indo-German Center for Sustainability (IGCS), IITM, Chennai.