Loss and damage: Raw deal for vulnerable countries in the Lima Call for Climate Action?

Sven Harmeling, CARE International

Addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change impacts was an issue at the centre of the final COP20 debates in Lima. Many developing countries backed the demands expressed powerfully by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, Small Island States and the Philippines to address loss and damage prominently in the 2015 climate agreement. It is a great global injustice that those populations and countries who have contributed least to the climate problem are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change impacts.

Loss and damage beyond adaptation and mitigation

Mitigation aims to reduce climate change impacts in the longer-term, while adaptation can help vulnerable communities to prepare for, and adapt to, climate change and related hazards in the short to medium term. Both forms of climate action are essential and need to be stepped up urgently. However, the loss and damage debate has emerged as it becomes increasingly obvious that the failure to adequately cut emissions means that we need to think “beyond” adaptation. That is also why the current “elements paper”, the draft blueprint for the Paris climate treaty, describes loss and damage as relating to “cases where mitigation and adaptation will not be sufficient.”

Why loss and damage has become central to the new climate treaty

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments have started to address the issue of loss and damage. The establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism at COP19 marked a milestone, and at COP20 governments approved a two-year work plan and key modalities for implementation. However, a demand from developing countries to also establish a financial and a technical facility was denied by developed countries. This means that the mechanism will currently be mostly limited to information gathering and knowledge sharing.

The key issue that forced extended negotiation and debate in Lima was loss and damage, and whether or not this issue would be properly addressed in the Paris climate agreement. While it currently appears in the “elements paper” on equal footing with adaptation, vulnerable countries are concerned that more powerful actors around the negotiation table may try to remove this from the treaty. The final decision taken in Lima by all governments, now called the “Lima Call for Climate Action”, erased hopes for a meaningful assessment of the collective global ambition and the associated consequences in terms of warming and impacts before Paris.

Vulnerable countries currently face a dire future. Mitigation pledges overall are falling far short of what is needed to keep global warming to below 2, or even 1.5, degrees Celsius. Additionally, despite welcome significant pledges for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), developed countries undermined the development of a clear climate finance roadmap towards the USD 100 billion goal by 2020. This is a fund that could significantly improve poor countries’ prospects for improving their climate resilience, and therefore reduce loss and damage. In fact, all that LDCs eventually got on loss and damage out of the controversial decision negotiated until the last minute is a vague reference to the Warsaw Mechanism. However, for most people present at the negotiations, the message is clear: loss and damage must be part of the Paris agreement if it hopes to respond to the climate reality.

Adaptation: Glimmers of hope through the GCF?

In stark contrast, negotiations on various adaptation issues caused significantly less controversy. COP20 took decisions to progress the work on National Adaptation Plans and the Adaptation Committee. The Adaptation Fund received a 50 million Euro pledge by Germany, although this is only a drop in the ocean of the required total fund amount. Most notably, due to the 50% allocation for adaptation, the Green Climate Fund is expected to be able to spend around USD 5 billion on adaptation over the next few years. The negotiations also covered the idea of a global adaptation goal, the need to link mitigation with the associated adaptation needs (including financial support), adaptation finance, institutional arrangements, and monitoring of adaptation efforts. Countries can also now use the communication of the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which in essence are about the post-2020 mitigation pledges, to inform about planned adaptation activities. This can help increase the profile for adaptation domestically.

So, the scope of issues for the 2015 treaty negotiations is mostly set. The issue will not be whether adaptation should be addressed, but what the main elements will be. We urge for the Paris treaty to deliver higher levels of ambition across the delivery of mitigation and adaptation, and that loss and damage will not be sidestepped, leaving vulnerable countries without the means to cope, or respond, when adaptation is no longer an option.