Loss and damage from climate change
The recent succession of hurricanes in the Caribbean and floods in South Asia have taken the world over the tipping point in acknowledging that human induced climate change is not only real but is happening already.
Of course there are still some deniers like US President Donald Trump and his environment chief Pruitt, but they lack credibility.
Thus, the issue of attribution of such events to human induced climate change is now generally acknowledged in the public sphere. At the same time the issue of compensation to those people and communities who have suffered loss and damage from these climatic events is also being discussed. At the national level within the United States, for the losses suffered by the states of Texas from hurricane Harvey and Florida from Hurricane Irma, there will be compensation payments made from the Federal Government to the states as per US law. However, there is still no such mechanism for compensation under international law.
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), what has already been agreed is to set up the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage which was agreed in Warsaw at the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) held in December 2013. Two years later, in December 2015 at the COP21 held in Paris, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was adopted with an article (Article 8) on Loss and Damage.
Under the WIM and Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, there are a number of elements that are identified under the issue of Loss and Damage. These include slow onset events (such as salinity in coastal areas due to sea level rise), rapid onset events (such as cyclones and floods), as well as non-economic losses (such as psychological impacts). There are also two important elements which have now become more urgent, namely the issue of forced displacement and migration due to climate change, and the need to provide financial support to such affected and displaced people around the world.
I will describe the current state of play with regard to these two issues of migration and funding.
First, let me address the issue of forced displacement and migration due to human induced climate change under Loss and Damage. This issue is now recognised as a genuine problem that we will have to address in the future as the impacts of human induced climate change intensify. However, this has now become a much more urgent issue with the recognition that the climatic events of 2017 reflect such attribution. Hence in the upcoming COP23 to be held in Bonn, Germany in November 2017 under the presidency of Fiji, the issue of Loss and Damage is going to be high on the agenda as declared by the Prime Minister of Fiji.
This also means addressing the issue of assigning liability and providing compensation which has so far been avoided. In fact the words "liability and compensation" have been made taboo in the climate change negotiations by developed countries (hence the use of "Loss and Damage" as the accepted euphemism instead of liability and compensation!).
The second issue of providing finance from the global community to those suffering loss and damage from climate change has also had some recent developments. The first is the acceptance of the use of climate index-based insurance as a tool to provide compensation to those suffering loss and damage. This has been piloted in the Caribbean for hurricane damage and in Africa for droughts. There are also some pilots being developed in Bangladesh for floods.
The other element is a civil society led advocacy effort, that is now gathering momentum around the world, which calls for the major global fossil fuel companies to provide compensation from the profits that they are making to those suffering from adverse impacts of climate change. This would be a practical application of the polluter-pays-principle. Of course this claim for compensation will receive strong resistance from the companies themselves as well as the countries that want to protect them.
Hence, at COP23 there will be an opportunity for the vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, to support Fiji in its desire to make Loss and Damage the major issue and to "un-taboo" the issue of liability and compensation. At the same time we must also support civil society led efforts to make the fossil fuel companies pay compensation for such loss and damage.
Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.
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