Making up time on Loss and Damage

Colin McQuistan

September 23rd, 2016

This week the world passed a benchmark when the 56th country submitted documents of ratification for the global climate change agreement that was signed in Paris in December 2015[1]. This was a significant step and raises the likelihood that the Paris agreement will be ratified in advance of the next global climate gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.

Paris agreement status

One of the significant achievements (aside from it actually being passed!) was the inclusion of Article 8 on Loss and Damage. Loss and Damage recognises that for many, action on climate change is already too late. That for the poorest and most vulnerable climate change has exceeded the point at which adaptation might help, they are already facing the irreversible consequences of climate change. Climate conditions have already made traditional cropping practices redundant, the rate of sea water acidification has reduced fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend and for many living in coastal areas and especially small island states, sea level rise is already making their homes uninhabitable.

For these people our fixation with fossil fuels meant the loss of their homes and livelihoods, our efforts to decarbonise the global energy systems took too long. So the Loss and Damage article in the Paris agreement goes a little way to start to decide what to do for those people where climate action has been too little, too late. Unfortunately, negotiations to take forward action on Loss and Damage are progressing too slowly, as I found out in Bonn this week.

WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

The fourth meeting of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) met in Bonn, Germany to discuss progress on their two year work plan. It’s clear that a political dance is underway in which everyone recognises the challenge but nobody is willing to step forward with the bold political agenda necessary to deliver climate justice. The developed countries are fearful of any notion of compensation, afraid of mega-lawsuits for Loss and Damages already incurred. Developing countries are trying to build on progress but cannot find the necessary levers to unlock the political impasse.

One of the first challenges is getting Loss and Damage recognised as a priority issue. Global temperatures have already risen 0.85oC from 1880 to 2012[2]. So immediate action to limit warming further is a priority. There are no scientific nor technological barriers to keep global warming within a 1.5oC envelope and therefore minimise Loss and Damage due to climate change. The only obstacles are social and political, an unwillingness to recognise reality and an unwillingness to accept responsibility.


The hurdle we have to overcome is not a difficult one. Best estimates for current climate change based on national commitments has warming in excess of 2.7oC[3]. Switching to a 1.5oC trajectory will deliver numerous social and economic benefits in addition to reducing the potential impacts of Loss and Damage, although this should be sufficient in itself to drive action now. Renewable energy technologies already exists and are not being exploited to their full potential. A switch to renewables would have stabilising effects on national economies as fuel prices spikes would be eradicated, with demand for fossil fuels falling and more energy being supplied for free. A switch to renewables would boost energy security. Already many counties especially small island states with the most too loose are well on the way to 100% renewable power generation. For example Costa Rica made headlines earlier in the year when it emerged that the country had been running on only renewable energy for 100 days of 2015[4]. A switch to non-polluting energy production would improve air quality considerably with reduced health burdens on national budgets, a win-win with reduced expenditure on health with increased productivity as health levels improve.

I’ll explore the impacts of Climate Change and the consequences of Loss and Damage in our work next week.





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