Illustration by Nevya Hernandez

Climate Induced Loss and Damage

Campaigns for on-campus recycling and easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint are admirable efforts, but they mean very little to those whose homes have already been destroyed by climate change.

Despite the Paris Agreement’s success and an upward trend in governmental and non-governmental action in mitigating climate change, many areas around the world are already suffering from climate induced disasters. According to Oxfam, our planet experiences approximately 400 extreme natural disasters every year. In August 2017, flooding in South Asia killed more than 1,200 people and affected 43 million people across Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The increasing frequency of droughts, hurricanes and storms threatens nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
These calamities have potential to cause both economic and non-economic loss. While developed countries are often well equipped to handle such disasters, the most vulnerable countries to climate change are often the most unprepared to mitigate its effects. The current narrative on climate change still centers upon mitigation and emission reduction, but effective frameworks and financing mechanisms to respond to loss and damage are lacking. It is time to develop mechanisms that quantify the loss and damage incurred by an individual or a society due to climate change and support them with monetary and non-monetary methods. In his photo series “Drowning World”, Gideon Mendel showcases the portraits of individuals from around the world who have lost their homes and livelihoods because of climate change. Merely decreasing emissions will not help people who have already lost all they have due to climate change. A mechanism to compensate them for their loss and damage is imperative.
To find ways to address this issue, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has developed a work program on Loss and Damage. At the 16th Conference of Parties meeting in 2010 in Cancun, Mexico, the Cancun Adaptation Framework was initiated to support climate-vulnerable developing countries in adaptation. Following two years of discussions and negotiations, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established in the 19th Conference of Parties meeting in 2013 in Warsaw, Poland, as the driving vehicle to implement loss & damage responses to climate change impacts under the UNFCCC. An Executive Committee which consists of 20 members was formed under the Warsaw Mechanism to take the responsibility for designing a clear framework for loss and damage under the convention.
The Executive Committee has made progress in implementing its initial two-year work plan and will evaluate progress made towards its five-year rolling work plan in 2020 and at regular intervals at subsequent meetings of the Executive Committee. Several thematic areas, including Slow Onset Events such as sea level rise, Finance and Non-Economic Losses have also been identified. These divisions are a good initiative to target specific consequences of climate change-induced disasters. However, a comprehensive plan on how countries will be supported in terms of loss and damage is still lacking.
A concrete outcome of the works of the Executive Committee has been the recent establishment of a task force on Migration, Displacement and Human Mobility to avert, minimize and address displacement of people because of climate-induced events. This is big progress given that mass migration of people, including internally displaced people, is the eventual consequence of climate change and is already a major global issue. Environmental and climate change refugees already exist in Bangladesh. According to the World Bank, at least 400,000 people move to Dhaka every year, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that 70% of Dhaka’s slum-dwellers moved there after fleeing some sort of environmental shock. This is particularly a big problem in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like the nation of Kiribati. Concerned with the increasing sea level rise, Kiribati recently bought a stretch of land in Vanua Levu, one of the islands in Fiji, to secure a space if people had to flee the rising tides.
To address issues of loss and damage, it is crucial to establish loss and damage as a permanent agenda item for negotiation under the COP framework. A separate financial mechanism similar to the Adaptation Fund or the Green Climate Fund would also help move funding for loss and damage into the mainstream. At the same time, it is important to create further awareness of this issue so that there is an international mobilization not just in decreasing emissions to fight climate change but also in compensating developing countries for loss and damage. There is also an abundance of space for anthropological, sociological and economic studies among affected populations. Concrete social science research can aid policymakers tackling this situation.
The progress in helping developing countries utilize resources concerning loss and damage has been slow. While other matters such as capacity building, technological transfer and financial support are anchored at the political level, loss and damage is not a permanent agenda item for negotiation under the COP framework. The opposition view claimed for an objection on the basis that the category of loss and damage was too broad for current negotiations. At present, loss and damage is considered only once a year when the Executive Committee presents its annual report.
Although there is no loss and damage framework at the moment, there is still hope in the form of the Suva expert dialogue happening in May this year in Fiji. The meeting is expected to result in a comprehensive path forward to tackle matters relating to loss and damage. Given the increasing number of climate-related disasters like heat waves, drought, floods and tropical cyclones alongside the growing impacts associated with slow onset events, it is very important to have tangible outcomes from the expert dialogue and for the Executive Committee to design a comprehensive implementation and finance framework as soon as possible.
Rashtra Raj Bhandari is a columnist. Email him at
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