Climate Talks, COP23 - Fiji & Bonn, Indigenous People, Loss & Damage

Loss and damages at COP23: why are we stuck?

This article is written by Adele Fardoux.

Thursday 16th of November in the NY plenary room of the UN Campus in Bonn. In front of a half-filled room, His Excellency Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu addressed the crowd with powerful words: “how would you feel if you were in my shoes? What would you do if you were facing the total disappearance of your country?”. Emphasizing on the threat of disappearance that are facing most Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), H.E Sopoaga raised his concerns about the state of negotiations regarding Loss and Damages at COP23.

Loss and Damages refers to the compensation of irrecoverable losses due to climate change in developing countries that do not have enough resources to cope with the consequences of human-induced global warming. The issue is new to the climate negotiations agenda. It was pushed by developing countries, notably AOSIS, since COP16 in Cancun (2010). A work program was then established under the umbrella of the SBI from 2011 and 2013. At COP19 in Poland, the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damages was launched. Driven by an Executive Committee, it is the main body of the UNFCCC to address the issue of Loss and Damages. It is mostly a technical mechanism that reports every year to the COP.

The window of opportunity to scale up ambitions regarding Loss and Damages seemed wide as this year saw an unprecedented number of environmental-related disasters and as COP23 was hosted by the Fidji Islands, one of the most vulnerable country to climate change. However, it was not that simple and the final outcomes of the discussions disappointed more than one.

Developing countries came to COP23 with two main pledges regarding Loss and Damages: They wanted it to be a permanent item on the SBI’s agenda and wanted to set up predictable and dedicated financial mechanisms in order to implement effective actions. None of these proposals made it to the final note which remains very vague and timid. Indeed, the process is highly intentional and there is no mention of a possible source of finance. Needless to say that, without appropriate funding, the Warsaw International Mechanism cannot be effective.

At the Pacific COP, where the urgency to act was emphasized at every corner and in every speech, what blocked the process?

Well, like most items during climate talks, politics were never far away. Indeed, for developed countries, it is one thing to acknowledge the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, a cornerstone for equity within the climate talks, but it is another thing to pay for the ongoing consequences of this historical responsibility. Allowing Loss and Damages to be a permanent item on the SBI’s agenda is allowing the subject to be politically debated as conclusions from the SBI are used to shape political talks and their outcomes. Moreover, it would have allowed Loss and Damages to be able to have dedicated finance through climate finance, to be integrated to other processes such as the Global Stocktake.  It would have moved the process further in its legitimization and it seemed that many Parties were not ready for that.

But let’s not be too pessimistic about it, there is a future! It may not be as ambitious as we expected but it does exist. Indeed, an expert dialogue on how to build capacity and finance will be held during the 2018 May intercession and an expert group on “Action and Support” might be set up. Its task would be to reflect on how to increase capacity building, technology transfer and finance. Moreover, the issue was widely discussed amongst many actors and the stakes surrounding Loss and Damages are increasingly acknowledged.

Let’s just hope that the step between recognition and effective action does not take too long. Loss and Damages is a key issue if we want to move forwards within the negotiations. If developing countries feel that developed countries are recognizing their primary concerns and act in the right way, it would create a climate of trust among Parties that would benefit for the negotiations as a whole. Moreover, some countries have no time to lose as loss and damages associated to climate change are an everyday reality to them. Left alone, they cannot tackle this. As the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, His Excellency Allen Michael Chastanet pointed out: “we are doing our part, but our part is not enough to save us”.


About the author: Adèle Fardoux is a French student graduating with a master in Development policies. She specialized in the study of developing countries within the climate negotiations and and in the land-climate nexus after an internship at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Adèle joined CliMates two years ago and she is part of the NegoTracking team. At COP23 she covered the topics of Adaptation and Loss and Damages.


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