The importance of loss and damage in climate negotiations


The issue of compensation and liability has been a major issue in climate negotiations since the beginning. Vulnerable countries who are forced to adapt and who have done nothing to create the global problems feel victimised and want that recognised. Barney Jopson and Pilita Clark write a good article in the Financial Times about the issues.


Liability talks key to UN climate summit

The US has underscored its opposition to providing direct support to help developing countries deal with loss and damage caused by global warming on the cusp of UN climate talks in Paris next week.

Helping people displaced by the extreme impacts of global warming is one of many stumbling blocks negotiators must overcome before the first new international climate accord in 18 years can be struck in Paris.

Catherine Novelli, a US undersecretary of state, told the Financial Times the US was ready to help poorer countries curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change but would not pay for the sweeping losses it could cause.

Speaking in Washington before she heads to Paris, Ms Novelli acknowledged that the issue of loss and damage has been “a big sticking point” in the negotiations.

“We obviously have disagreed with countries about where that should come out. We are not of the view that we should pay for loss and damage,” she said.

Poorer countries want the new agreement to contain specific measures such as a new “climate change displacement co-ordination facility” to deal with loss and damage.

But the US, the EU and other wealthy countries have opposed the inclusion of such plans in the final accord amid fears it could make them liable for endless claims for climate compensation.

The US’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, told reporters last month that Washington had never accepted the idea of compensation and liability “and we’re not about to accept it now”.

“I can’t tell you what is going to be in the agreement and not going to be in the agreement but I will tell you that the United States is not going to accept compensation and liability being in the agreement,” he said.

A State department official said: “We are also committed to helping vulnerable countries develop in a climate resilient way so that they can avert and reduce loss and damage in the first place. We are the largest humanitarian donor in the world, and will be there when disaster strikes, no matter the cause.”

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Stern skirted around one of the other big obstacles to sealing an agreement in Paris: the amount and source of money to be delivered to help poorer nations adapt to a changing climate and lower their emissions.

Wealthy countries have already agreed to channel $100bn a year in so-called climate finance by 2020.

Developing countries want the Paris accord to require that amount to be scaled up in future, along with other climate funding.

Asked if the US believed this was realistic, Mr Stern said: “We don’t know yet.”

“The finance portion of these negotiations is one of the still controversial pieces of it,” he said.

“Clearly finance will need to continue at a robust level. We have every intention of both making good on the pledges that we have already made in the past up until 2020 and then continuing robust financing after that.”

But Mr Stern said the US also wanted to see the sources of climate funding expanded beyond the older industrialised countries that have traditionally offered such finance.

“We think the donor base, the number of parties who are prepared to contribute financing to poor countries should grow,” he said. China agreed to offer some $3bn in climate finance to poor countries in September, matching the amount the US has recently committed.

While Beijing may be willing to enshrine such measures in the final Paris accord, it is far from clear that other big emerging countries will agree to such a move.

Ms Novelli said that the US had pledged to provide technical assistance to poorer countries as well as financing for renewable energy and initiatives such as reforestation, which can help reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

“Everybody has to bear costs,” she said. “It’s not that countries are being left totally on their own. It’s not sort of a just ‘pull yourselves up by your bootstraps and good luck’ kind of situation.”

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