You may hear the phrase “loss and damage” in the coming weeks as government leaders meet in Egypt for the 2022 UN climate conference.
It refers to the costs, both economic and physical, that developing countries face as a result of the effects of climate change. Many of the world’s most climate-sensitive countries have done little to cause climate change, yet they face extreme heatwaves, floods and other climate-related disasters. They want richer countries – historically the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions – to pay for the damage.
A powerful example is Pakistan, where extreme rainfall on the heels of a glacial melting heat wave in the summer of 2022 flooded nearly a third of the country.
The floods turned Pakistan’s fields into miles of lakes that stranded communities for weeks. More than 1,700 people died, millions lost their homes and livelihoods, and more than 4 million acres of crops and orchards, as well as livestock, were drowned or damaged. This was followed by an increase in malaria cases due to mosquitoes breeding in the standing water.
Pakistan contributes only about 1% of global emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. But greenhouse gases don’t stay within national borders – emissions everywhere affect the global climate. A warming climate is intensifying rainfall, and studies suggest that climate change has increased rainfall in Pakistan by as much as 50%.
The issue of compensation for loss and damage has long been a subject of negotiation at the United Nations’ climate conferences, which have been held almost every year since 1995, but little progress has been made in including a financial mechanism for loss and damage in international climate agreements.
Many developing countries see this year’s conference, COP27, as a crucial moment to make progress in setting up that formal mechanism.
Africa’s Climate Conference
With Egypt hosting this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, it’s no surprise that loss and damage take center stage.
Countries in Africa have some of the lowest national greenhouse gas emissions, and yet the continent is home to many of the world’s most climate-sensitive countries.
To cope with climate change, these countries – many of which are among the poorest in the world – will need to invest in adaptation measures, such as sea defenses, climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure that is more resistant to heat and extreme storms. The UN Environment Program’s Adaptation Gap Report, released on November 3, 2022, shows that developing countries need five to ten times more international adaptation funding than richer countries provide.
When climate disasters strike, countries also need more financial aid to cover relief efforts, infrastructure repairs and recovery. This is loss and damage.
Egypt emphasizes the need for rich countries to make greater progress in providing financial support for both adaptation and loss and damage.
Climate injustice and loss and damage
The conversation about loss and damage is inherently about equity. It begs the question: why should countries that have done little to cause global warming be responsible for the damage from rich countries’ emissions?
That also makes it controversial. Negotiators know that the idea of compensation for loss and damage could lead to further discussions about financial compensation for historical wrongs, such as slavery in the United States or colonial exploitation by European powers.
At COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021, negotiators made progress on a number of key issues, including stricter emissions targets and commitments to double adjustment financing for developing countries. But COP26 was seen as a disappointment by proponents trying to establish a financial mechanism for wealthier countries to finance losses and damages in developing countries.
What a formal mechanism might look like?
The lack of resolution at COP26, combined with Egypt’s commitment to focus on financing for adaptation and loss and damage, means the issue will be on the table this year.
The nonprofit Climate and Energy Solutions Center expects discussions to focus on institutional arrangements for the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, which focuses on providing technical assistance to help developing countries minimize loss and damage; and on refining the Glasgow Dialogue, a formal process developed in 2021 to bring countries together to discuss loss and damage financing.
The V20 group of finance ministers, which represents 58 countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change, and the G-7 group of rich countries also agreed in October 2022 on a financial mechanism called the Global Shield Against Climate Risks. The Global Shield aims to provide risk insurance and rapid financial assistance to countries after disasters, but it is unclear how it will fit into international discussions. Some groups have expressed concern that reliance on insurance systems could overlook the poorest people and divert attention from the larger discussion of setting up a special loss and damage fund.
Two elements of developed countries’ reluctance to formalize a loss and damage mechanism are how to determine which countries or communities are eligible for compensation and what the limitations of such a mechanism would be.
What would a threshold for eligibility for loss and damage look like? Limiting countries or communities from receiving compensation for loss and damage based on their current emissions or gross domestic product can become a problematic and complicated process. Most experts recommend determining suitability based on climate vulnerability, but this can also be difficult.
How will world leaders react?
More than a decade ago, developed countries committed to providing $0 billion annually to finance adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. But they’re slow to meet that commitment, and it doesn’t cover the damage from the climate impacts the world is already seeing.
Setting up a loss and damage mechanism is seen as a way of redressing global climate injustice. All eyes are on Egypt from November 6-18, 2022 to see how world leaders respond.
This article was updated on November 3, 2022 with the findings of the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report.
This article was republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Do you like this article? subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Bethany Tietjen does not work for, consult, own stock in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations outside of their academic appointment.