Progress on loss and damage: A major priority for Small Island Developing States

Norma Cherry-Fevrier, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission

Since the climate change conference in Bali in 2007, discussions on loss and damage have advanced, leading to a major milestone at COP19 where the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this framework addresses loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change – including extreme events and slow onset events – in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. There is a view that the world has moved beyond adaptation, and a new way of thinking regarding response to climate change must be adopted. As a result, the operations of the loss and damage mechanism are critical to the survival of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as they continue to deal with the negative impacts of climate change, despite the many efforts of mitigation and adaptation activities.

SIDS are currently facing many economic and non-economic losses as a result of the impacts of extreme weather events such as droughts, hurricanes, coastal erosion and flooding that destroy major contributing sectors such as tourism and agriculture, leading to slow economic growth. Coupled with this, SIDS are grappling with other challenges. Some of these challenges include the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services that in turn affect livelihoods, high energy costs due to reliance on fossil fuels, and the graduation of many SIDS to middle income status making them ineligible for many sources of grant funding internationally. The social impacts are also noteworthy, as being in a constant state of disaster recovery can affect social cohesion and how people and communities interact and utilise scarce resources.

Therefore, the functionality of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage provides an opportunity to assist SIDS in coping with the effects of climate change, as losses from extreme events will continue to occur despite mitigation and adaptation efforts. Consequently, the implementation of approaches under the UNFCCC to (i) enhance knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches (ii) strengthen the dialogue, coherence, coordination and synergies among relevant stakeholders and (iii) enhance action and support including finance, technology and capacity building will be essential.

SIDS need to move ahead to establish or strengthen existing arrangements and institutional frameworks to address topics such as risk management, reduction and assessment at the regional and national levels. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has suggested that the mechanism comprise an insurance component, a rehabilitation/compensatory component and a risk management component that will form part of an integrated approach aimed at enhancing adaptive capacity in SIDS. Notwithstanding the many arguments and positions of Parties on the loss and damage debate, it is very relevant to the survival of SIDS and progress must be made on the subject. Finance, technology and capacity building support will therefore be crucial, given the current economic situations being faced in many SIDS.

Seeing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report has confirmed that there are limitations to adaptation, AOSIS this year stressed that the loss and damage mechanism must be anchored in the 2015 Climate Change Agreement, making it permanent while enabling loss and damage to be addressed in a robust, consistent and sustained manner. AOSIS also stressed that loss and damage should be distinct and separate from adaptation.

Establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was a major victory for SIDS, but action must follow, along with the political will of SIDS to ensure that progress is made and results are realised in addressing the many new and emerging challenges compounded by climate change. COP20 in Lima therefore presents another major opportunity to make significant progress on the Loss and Damage Mechanism, emphasising its importance to the survival of SIDS. Consideration of the operations of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage should therefore continue at Lima, to ensure its preservation and anchoring in the climate change agreement in Paris in 2015.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Norma Cherry-Fevrier is a Programme Officer employed with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission. She is trained in Natural Resource and Environmental Management, Economics and Project Management. She can be contacted at