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Loss and damage: UN receives new climate compensation plans

Ideas flood in on how Warsaw’s loss and damage mechanism could limit damage to the world’s most vulnerable

Pic: UN photo

Pic: UN photo

By Sophie Yeo

Over the next two years, countries will draw up a framework that will shape the responses of the poorest countries to climate-caused catastrophes.

This process is a crucial one for vulnerable nations, as it will essentially shape how equipped they are to deal with more hurricanes, rising sea levels, floods and heatwaves – some of the predicted effects of a warmer planet.

Some countries, like Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands, will feel these impacts disproportionately, and have the least capacity to deal with them due to their fledging economies. At the same time, they are the least responsible for causing the problem of climate change.

Nations are eager to have their say in shaping work on loss and damage, pointing out which issues should be prioritised.

So far, nations who have delivered their thoughts on the process to the UN include: the 54-strong least developed countries coalition, small island states, Africa, Japan and Canada.

“The fact that countries have responded is a good sign,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.

The fact that this process is happening at all is down to pressure applied by developing countries at the UN’s main climate conference in Warsaw last year.

They said that it was too late to stop climate change, and now also too late to adapt to its impacts, which meant they were inevitably going to have to deal with its consequences.

Conceding that vulnerable countries are likely to suffer due to the warming planet, countries agreed to set up the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage”.

This was largely seen as a coup for poor countries, which faced pushback from rich nations concerned that the new tool would be accompanied by a large bill to be paid by those who have emitted heavily in the past.

At the UN’s next round of talks in Lima, countries will have to flesh out the skeleton drawn up in Warsaw. This will mean deciding exactly how the aims of the mechanism should be carried out.

Report: UN needs to deliver on Warsaw loss and damage pact

Documents submitted to the UN so far include suggestions that the people working on the Mechanism should, over the next two years, set out standardised guidelines to assess risk, identify gaps in existing data, and improve understanding of non-economic losses and slow onset processes, including desertification and land degradation.

They also suggest that there is some tension over the level to which “loss and damage” should be seen as part of the UN’s work on adaptation – a point which was debated fiercely at Warsaw.

Canada suggests that countries should look at where work on loss and damage can be incorporated into existing National Adaptation plans “where possible”. Though the two issues are closely linked, developing countries were determined that they should be dealt with separately by the UN.

“This is an issue that has always been in the negotiations – where does adaptation stop and loss and damage begin?” said Huq.

One of the most controversial topics is the issue of attributing blame for climate change. This is a scientific process which will take longer than two years, added Huq, though the insurance mechanisms proposed by the small island states and LDCs could be one way of “compensating” countries facing losses.

The final mechanism will be reviewed at the UN’s 2016 conference, the year after an international climate deal is set to be signed off in Paris.

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