Leave no one behind in Paris

In a few days the 21st International Conference on Climate Change (COP21) will start in Paris aiming at reaching a post-2020 climate agreement involving all countries in the world. The issues and challenges are complex and need ambitious solutions to keep global warming below the catastrophic threshold of 2°C. Many political aspects of this new agreement are still unresolved and will probably be mistreated and misused in the last hours of these negotiations as bargaining chips. One of them being Loss & Damage.

Today there is a broader consensus within the international climate community to consider various climate-related effects and events to be unavoidable even with greater mitigation and sound adaptation actions. According to the latest reports of the international scientific community, climate change will increase the duration and intensity of extreme weather and slow-onset events. These effects are already happening with a global warming average temperature rise of only 0.8°C. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has estimated that about 559000 climate-related death occurred between 1992 and 2012. The German reinsurance company, Munich Re, has estimated the economic losses related to climate change have increased by fourfold between 1982 and 2015. During the period 2008 – 2013 around 140 million people, representing 85% of all migration, were displaced due to climate-related natural disasters. And only for the year 2014, 900 weather-related events caused USD 100 billion of damages globally.

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The climate-related losses and damages are what is considered being beyond normal. But does it mean a specific and single climate event can be attributed to climate change? Is it scientifically possible to attribute resulting damages solely to climate change? How to quantify the loss of agriculture productivity, of biodiversity, or the damages induced by the salinisation of groundwater due to sea level rise? How to measure the non-economical losses such as the disappearance of homeland, of cultural “goods”, or the spread of diseases?

Bread for the World, GermanWatch and ACT Alliance released early November a report on climate-related Loss & Damage, one of the very sensitive issue which can become a deal-maker or breaker in Paris.

L&D Report Cover

It looks at the reality of climate-related losses and damages already happening across the globe, showing the geographic disparities such as the regions around the equator which are more exposed to climate change and to be more affected than others. It also shows the various climate risk factors exposing unequally countries to these challenges, such as the vulnerability and capacities of communities and states to manage disasters and to adapt in general.

In 2013, 22 million people lost their homes due to natural disasters which is three times more than those lost due to conflicts. The island surface area of Kutubia in Bangladesh has shrunken over the years from 250 to 37 km² and forecasts show with 2°C global warming and sea level rise of 1m the total surface of this country would be reduced by 18% forcing about 11% of its population to be relocated. Well before the end of this century, the island-state of Kiribati will become uninhabitable long before it disappears, a loss of statehood only due to climate change which will be without precedent in human history. The report describes and therefore confirms the higher risk that climate-related loss and damage will represent for poorer countries, the loss of statehood as a precedent for the most vulnerable countries like small-islands states and other global challenges such as climate-induced migration and displacement.

Loss and Damage (L&D) is a relatively recent concept being discussed in international politics. Since 2010 it has been part of UNFCCC negotiations, increasing mutual understanding of what is L&D, what can be done and how to deal with it. As a result the Warsaw International Mechanism on L&D was created in late 2013 and aims at driving better discussion and understanding of this issue, as well as providing solutions. But the future of this mechanism is uncertain, a first report of the implementation of its work programme is due to take place end of 2016 without concrete legal commitment to serve as the core body dealing with L&D in a post-2020 climate era.

This report is also looking at other international processes tackling partly the climate-related L&D such as the UN refugee agency and the Human Rights council. Several multilateral framework agreements also have dimensions partly addressing L&D like the Sendai framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 including the development of early warning systems and a mechanism to support states overwhelmed with natural disasters, and like the new Sustainable Development Goals, agreed last September, integrating a specific objective targeting climate change and its impacts. Other international initiatives have been created recently and which could be further developed to provide efficient responses such as the Nansen Initiative (to protect people fleeing climate-related disasters across borders), the African Risk Capacity (insurance against droughts), the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (insurance of public services and infrastructures), the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation (insurance against crop failure) and the G7 Climate Risk Insurance Initiative.

Because of the state of climate emergency and because climate change is already impacting humankind, several countries which their existence and population are in danger already today have developed specific national policies. In Fiji, a national climate change policy has introduced a systematic climate risk mapping with a relocation plan of communities. Since 2009 the El Salvador government and parliament have adopted a climate strategy developing systematic observation, early warning systems, adaptation plans and a set of environmental laws prioritizing risk reduction and planning.

After drawing a reality check of loss and damage discussions and political processes, the report focuses on the state of affairs in the current negotiations in the run-up to COP21, highlighting the expectations, demands and options to close the climate risk gap and to fairly address L&D in the future Paris Agreement.

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Based on the feedbacks of different stakeholders involved in this field, it is highly recommended to integrate climate risk analysis in adaptation plans, to strengthen climate risk management in adaptation plans and development policies, and to strengthen the WIM with advisory and implementing roles. International and national initiatives should be further developed and expanded to other countries while continuing research into climate risks resulting from long-term changes. Other impacts and consequences of climate changes must be addressed, to name a few: the detabooisation of climate migration and the recognition of non-economic losses.

If the probable future climate agreement to be reached in Paris is to be meaningful, it must contain the specific acknowledgement of continuity from mitigation, adaptation and L&D, the recognition that not all L&D can be avoided and the anchoring of the WIM as main institution addressing theses challenges. The Paris Agreement should also be accompanied with a series of so-called COP decisions to develop the WIM before 2020 and of existing initiatives as part of the Paris-Lima Agenda of Solutions to be further developed and implemented in all affected regions.

In Paris a clear consensus must be found to deal with climate change consequences. It would be scandalous to leave behind the most affected and poorest countries which have not contributed to climate change. Those responsible must be increasingly held to account for rising damages and costs, and others deserve solidarity even if we cannot quantify and financially compensate for these losses and damages.

Press Releases by Bread for the World, German Watch and ACT Alliance.