Climate Justice & Sustainability

Doha Debrief: Updates from the UN Climate Negotiations in Qatar - Loss and Damage

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It’s a little over a week since COP18 ended in Doha, and the general verdict seems to be that the conference was a failure; the outcomes continue to lack the targets, the finance or the justice that is needed in order for the challenge of climate change to be overcome. But it seems there is one aspect of the talks that is being held up as a great success; ‘loss and damage’. Reuben Makomere tell us more…

Loss and Damage: What is it?

There are two major aspects to tackling climate change; mitigation (the curbing of emissions in order to prevent further climate change) and adaptation (helping countries to cope with the effects of climate change that are now unavoidable. Many countries already have adaptation programmes which are enabling communities to change farming practices, build defences against flooding, or diversify their means of income - to name but a few.

But what happens when something so extreme happens that there is no adapting to it?

Take for example the recent superstorm Bopha in the Philippines, the death toll of which has now passed 1000; how does a country adapt to the devastation caused? And it’s not just extreme weather events that strike suddenly. For some countries the onset of issues like water resource depletion is slow but relentless, and with no additional water to draw on, is something that cannot be adapted to.

It is important to remember that what is lost and damaged isn’t just infrastructural, economic or human. The dispersal of communities and the death of ways of life result in a losses of culture, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity - the value of which are often incalculable.[1]

Bringing the talks to life

During the talks, Mr Yeb Sano (Climate Change Commissioner and negotiator for the Philippines) tweeted that Typhoon Bopha had claimed 955 lives with 841 more missing, affected up to 5.7 million more and the agricultural damage was in the region of US$250 million. Watch Yeb’s emotional speech to the delegates.

Developments in Doha

Many developing nations had hoped that COP18 would see the creation of an international mechanism on loss and damage, something many developed nations did not want to discuss - let alone agree to. Countries like the USA worry that such a mechanism would “…[open] up the door for unlimited compensation”.

But a hard fought battle saw compromise reached in Doha, something that - given such vehement opposition - can and should be seen as a victory for developing countries. Whilst a mechanism hasn’t been created, countries have agreed to discuss the creation of a mechanism at COP19 next year. This sounds fairly lame, but given the appetite to shut down discussion of a mechanism altogether this year, this is a significant step forward.

For young people, there is a rare glimmer of good news (though it is nothing that should be held onto as a victory). The text released on loss and damage includes a section that outlines where further work is needed to ‘advance the understanding and expertise’, and it includes:

“How loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change affects those segments of the population that are already vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age, indigenous or minority status, or disability, and how the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage can benefit those segments of the population”

Could this reference to ‘age’ mean that young people will be considered - or even consulted - in decisions being made about our futures? Afterall, our generation will need the lion’s share of any outcomes of this mechanism.

Despite all of this, the text that did come out of Doha is weak, passing the buck for another year while natural disasters and slow-onset events continue to increase in number and severity. The final decision from COP18 was simply not enough.

So what needs to happen in Warsaw?

With loss and damage so high on the list of outcomes from COP18, it is hoped it will not fall off the agenda at next year’s COP in Poland. The political will to discuss the issue that began to emerge in Doha must be encouraged and leveraged in order to create a framework that is meaningful and effective. Such a framework must include adequate funding, the transfer of technologies, and measures specific to vulnerable groups, including young people. In the meantime, young people will continue to stand with those nations already in need of this mechanism.

We Stand With The Philippines

[1] For more on loss and damage, the following resources may be useful: