Loss and Damage at COP27
From November 6th, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been holding its latest Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt. Hot debate is already surrounding so-called “Loss and Damage”, a policy aspect considered after Mitigation and Adaptation as the third pillar of climate change (Huq, Roberts, Fenton, Kreft, Warner and Harmeling, cited in Roberts and Pelling, 2016).
What is Loss and Damage?
Whereas Mitigation can be described as actions to slow climate change, and Adaptation as taking steps to live with the effects of climate change (COP23, 2017), Loss and Damage refers to the “negative consequences of climate change on human societies and the natural environment” (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021).
Loss and Damage can be conceptualised as the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided through mitigation and adaptation efforts (Roberts, Huq and Verheyen, cited in Roberts and Pelling, 2016).
It refers to economic loss in the form of crops, homes and infrastructure, and non-economic loss in the form of human health, cultural and indigenous heritage, territory and biodiversity (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021). Losses may be incurred due to both extreme climate events and slow onset processes (Surminski, 2021).
Why does Loss and Damage matter now?
Loss and Damage is contested due to perceived inequalities between those richer, historically higher emitting countries and the poorer, lower emitting countries where climate impacts are felt the most. Blocs of developing countries claim they are paying the price for richer countries’ unconstrained fossil fuel development.
By way of example, Africa represents a historic contribution of only 3.8% to global emissions, yet faces some of the highest losses associated with climate impacts. The Lake Chad region has seen temperature rises of 2 degrees since the 1960s leading to increased droughts, lower crop and fishing yields, displacement and conflict (Liao, Jeffs and Wallace, 2022).
Pakistan presents another salient example. Combined losses and estimated reconstruction costs from recent flooding, as reported by the Avoidable Deaths Network previously, are now estimated at over USD $30 billion (World Bank, 2022). After a series of anomalous summer heatwaves, the baked hard ground received up to eight times the normal rainfall in places (Caley, Choudhary and Manahil, 2022). Infrastructure, livelihoods and homes were drowned, particularly in southern Sindh province which now faces a growing health crisis.
Indeed, Loss and Damage projections that go beyond the scope of Mitigation and Adaptation “could cost developing countries a total of US$290–580 billion in 2030 and reach US$1–1.8 trillion in 2050” (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021).
A brief history of debate and policy
Calls to take responsibility for historical emissions, thus opening the way to liability and compensation, have proven “a major red line” for richer countries who instead seek to address Loss and Damage as an ex-ante part of adaptation measures (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021).
The 2013 Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage was set up under these circumstances at COP19, with an aim to enhance “knowledge of risk management approaches, strengthening coordination to address losses and damage, and increasing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building” (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021).
In 2015, Article 8 of the Paris Agreement called for enhanced “understanding, action and support” through the WIM on Loss and Damage as associated with the impacts of climate change (UNFCCC, 2015), but also contained a clause agreeing that there would be no basis for liability or compensation.
Loss and Damage as a policy concept had made it into the 2015 text, thus establishing separateness from Mitigation and Adaptation. However, as Broberg (2020) notes, the United States in particular worked to make clear the provisions could not provide a legal basis for compensation.
By the time of COP26 in Glasgow, 2021, developing countries were calling for the strengthening of the WIM to help deliver finance (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2021). The emerging text urged developed countries to provide “support for activities addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change” (UNFCCC, 2022, p7) as well as operationalisation and funding for the Santiago Network, a body which provides a mechanism for “addressing loss and damage at the local, national and regional level” (United Nations Climate Change, no date).
At COP26, consensus was again not reached on funding, but the so-called Glasgow Dialogue emerged “for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change” (UNFCCC, 2022, p8). Hailed by some countries as a sign of progress, others claimed the initiative represents yet another instance of failure to recognise needs (Liao, Jeffs and Wallace, 2022).
What now for loss and damage at the UNFCCC?
Developing countries say cases such as Lake Chad and Pakistan show climate risks have now been realised, and funding on a point of fairness and equity should be provided by the historically biggest polluters. Developed countries for their part argue efforts should continue to focus on Adaptation rather than compensation.
Loss and Damage is now an important policy consideration for the UNFCCC, yet presents formidable technical challenges to implementation (Surminski, 2021). We are currently unable to establish formal attribution of Loss and Damage to anthropogenic climate change; neither can we determine the limits to where Loss and Damage falls outwith Mitigation and Adaptation (Roberts and Pelling, 2016).
However, ‘attribution science’, whereby calculations link emissions with specific Loss and Damage, is a growing research field (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2022). A study from Dartmouth College in 2022 (cited in Gerretsen, 2022) provided an assessment of liability by country, concluding that the historically largest emissions, from the United States, cost the world more than £1.6 trillion between 1990 and 2014.
UN Secretary General Guterres has made no secret of his opinions, calling the debate a “case study in moral and economic justice” (McGrath, 2022). As COP27 is underway, the pressure is growing on developed countries to respond.
Broberg, M. (2020) Consequences of adding ‘loss and damage’ as a third pillar of international climate change law. Available at: https://climatestrategies.org/consequences-of-adding-loss-and-damage-as-a-third-pillar-of-international-climate-change-law/ (Accessed November 1, 2022)
Caley, T., Choudhary, N. and Manahil, A. (2022) Rapid Review of Flood Damage and Loss in Pakistan. Available at: https://www.avoidable-deaths.net/2022/09/28/rapid-review-of-flood-damage-and-loss-in-pakistan/ (Accessed November 1, 2022)
COP23 (2017) Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience: The Three Pillars of the Response to Global Warming. Available at: https://cop23.com.fj/mitigation-adaptation-resilience/ (Accessed November 1, 2022)
Gerretsen, I. (2022) What if polluters footed the climate bill? Available at: https://bbc.com/future/article/20221026-what-if-polluters-paid-for-climate-change-loss-and-damage (Accessed November 3, 2022)
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (2021) What is climate change ‘Loss and Damage?’ Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-climate-change-loss-and-damage/ (Accessed November 1, 2022)
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (2022) What is climate change ‘Loss and Damage?’ Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-climate-change-loss-and-damage/ (Accessed November 1, 2022)
Liao, C., Jeffs, N. and Wallace, J. (2022) What is loss and damage? Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/08/what-loss-and-damage (Accessed November 2, 2022)
McGrath, M. (2022) UN chief: ‘Tax fossil fuel profits for climate damage’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-62970887 (Accessed November 3, 2022)
Roberts, E. and Pelling, M. (2016) ‘Climate change-related loss and damage: translating the global policy agenda for national policy processes’ in Climate and Development, 10 (1). Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17565529.2016.1184608 (Accessed November 2, 2022)
Surminski, S. (2021) Loss and damage and COP26: Swenja Surminski. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-HUCXVWtho (Accessed November 1, 2022)
United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2022) Report of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement on its
third session, held in Glasgow from 31 October to 13 November 2021. Available at: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma2021_10_add1_adv.pdf (Accessed November 1, 2022)
United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2015) The Paris outcome on loss and damage. Available at: https://unfccc.int/files/adaptation/groups_committees/loss_and_damage_executive_committee/application/pdf/ref_8_decision_xcp.21.pdf (Accessed November 1, 2022)
United Nations Climate Change (no date) Santiago Network. Available at: https://unfccc.int/santiago-network (Accessed November 2, 2022)
World Bank (2022) Press release: Pakistan: Flood Damages and Economic Losses Over USD 30 billion and Reconstruction Needs Over USD 16 billion – New Assessment. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/10/28/pakistan-flood-damages-and-economic-losses-over-usd-30-billion-and-reconstruction-needs-over-usd-16-billion-new-assessme (Accessed November 1, 2022)