COP25

Nations Square Off on Loss and Damage at COP25

The issue of loss and damage has turned into one of the most contentious topics at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid.

The chief international framework that addresses this important subject, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), is up for a second review. Developing nations are locked in a heated debate with developed nations regarding loss and damage finance and other issues.

COP25  brings together representatives from 197 nations. The two-week gathering, which began on December 2, is the chief forum for airing issues related to the Paris Agreement.

Developed nations, in particular the United States and Australia, have long-resisted financial compensation for loss and damage as they seek to skirt around the issue of legal liability. The hostile nature of developed nations toward loss and damage has been the biggest barrier to a resolution on this critical issue and the creation of a robust implementation arm of the WIM.   

What is loss and damage?

Loss and damage refers to irreparable damage or irreversible losses from the adverse impacts of climate change.  While loss and damage should be considered a third pillar of international climate policy, in addition to mitigation and adaptation, it has not been given equal weight in previous negotiations.  

The WIM was established in 2013 during the COP19 negotiations in Poland to address the issue of loss and damage by enhancing knowledge and understanding, strengthening dialogue and promoting action and support.

“Poor countries, particularly, are facing disasters and do not have capacity to respond to it,” said Harjeet Singh, Global Climate Lead for ActionAid. “We always demanded that the United Nations system for climate change should actually support these countries so we in fact started about compensation.  That’s how we got the Warsaw International Mechanism.”

What is being negotiated at COP25?

Since 2013, there have been significant advances in enhancing knowledge and understanding and strengthening dialogue on loss and damage. However, almost nothing has been done regarding action and support, the third major pillar of the WIM, which covers the financing of loss and damage.

With the need for action and support becoming critical, the biggest issues being negotiated at COP25 this year on loss and damage are governance and finance during the WIM review.  

On the issue of governance, the Chilean presidency is tasked with trying to make sure the governance aspect of loss and damage meets the needs of both developed and developing countries. The announcement by the United States that it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has left developing countries deeply concerned about what will happen with respect to its responsibilities on loss and damage after it leaves the Agreement, according to Leia Achampong, EU Policy Lead for Climate Justice with the ACT Alliance.   

The financing of loss and damage remains perhaps the most contentious subject at the negotiations. Developing nations are already suffering from the impacts of climate change, yet a channel to finance loss and damage has not been properly established.  

However, this could change as developing countries appear more unified than ever to draft a resolution in their favor.

“I have been very excited by developing countries’ unified position on what they want in terms of the WIM Review and loss and damage finance,” said Achampong. 

Who is obstructing progress?

Developed countries, such as the United States and Australia, have been hostile to the idea of financing developing nations that are experiencing the irreversible effects of climate change.

“Essentially developed countries dislike being held liable for the amount of emissions that they have emitted historically and the lack of ambition that they are now showing in order to reduce their emissions,” said Achampong. 

What are the possible outcomes?

The WIM Review is expected to lead to one of the most significant decisions at COP25.  It remains to be seen if the WIM review will result in a consensus on the development of a robust implementation arm with a financing channel. 

While the hostile attitude of developed nations has caused many to temper their expectations, some are hopeful for a potential breakthrough on action and support regarding loss and damage.    

“The decision text should make it clear that there should be an implementation arm under the WIM,” said Achampong. “Under that implementation arm should be a finance facility, a capacity building facility and technology facility.  It should also be made clear that any finance should be new and additional to existing finance, including humanitarian aide.”

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