Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Loss and damage from climate change: back to adaptation drawing board?

The term ‘Loss and damage’ refers to the residual losses and damages associated with climate change after all mitigation and adaptation activities are implemented. Though the issue of loss and damage received attention in the sixteenth session of the Conference of Parties that drafted Cancun Agreements in Cancun in 2010, scientists have far before warned the possibility for residual damages from climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC released in 2007 has clearly identified the reasons why climate change adaptation, as we know today, may fall short of expectations. Some of the reasons identified were the inability for some of the adaptation actions not implemented to the extent at place and time they are needed, limitations such as policy imperfections that may work counter to adaptation practices, limited understanding on the effectiveness of known options to date and failure of adaptation practices to prove effective for longer time periods. Over and above these imperfections, barriers such as limited capacity to implement adaptation projects, limited financing and limited available adaptation options further pose bottlenecks to achieving maximum adaptation globally. The failure of adaptation practices can happen in all developmental contexts. As evident from the literature reviewed by the IPCC 4th Assessment Report and reports emerging from elsewhere, adaptation practices could fail to prove effective both in developed and developing countries though such possibilities might be higher in developing countries due to underlying developmental and capacity factors. The residual losses associated with climate change has both historical and future angle to it. As discussed above, the evidence has started emerging on the extent to which adaptation practices have failed to perform. Though our understanding on the future climate impacts continue to emerge along with the improving climate predictions, scientists are certain that limits to adapt continue to be an issue for years to come. The greater recognition of residual losses raises several important questions for different stakeholders involved in climate change: how much more adaptation and mitigation is needed to reduce the residual damages, can hard-pushing the existing options will suffice or there is a need for greater innovation, to what extent overcoming the known barriers to climate agenda will help and what does it mean for communities and countries already at risk?

Farmers are one of the most impacted and least heard communities

Taking this entire paradigm into planning strategies is vital for sustaining and improving adaptation efforts at all levels. Recognizing this, the Cancun Adaptation Framework has clearly identified the requirement for international cooperation to understand and mitigate the loss and damage associated with climate change particularly to help the most vulnerable developing countries and has decided to establish a work program on loss and damage for enhancing the related work. Further to these efforts, the Conference of Parties that met at the Doha Climate Change Conference has decided to establish an international mechanism, in the form of a network or forum, to address the loss and damage and to prepare technical papers that identify gaps in our understanding on non-economic losses and gaps in institutional arrangements. The Conference of Parties have also decided to organize an expert meeting to understand and bridge gaps to address slow onset disasters such as droughts and sea level rise.

As is the case with other elements of climate change discussions, the issue of loss and damage has attracted divided response from developed and developing countries. Monitoring the submissions made to the Conference of Parties and related discussions on the sidelines of these events show clear division in terms of components to be included in the international debate on loss and damage (e.g. the issue of compensation to loss and damage emanating from residual climate change impacts after implementing adaptation actions) and necessary institutional arrangements. While developing countries have proposed to introduce international financial mechanisms such as insurance and compensation mechanism for the historical and future residual damages, developed countries have urged to focus on efforts to greater understanding of the issue and implement capacity building measures to address the issue. While this difference in opinion will continue to exist for a foreseeable future, it is incontestable fact that all countries need to work together to address the residual losses associated with climate change since the evidences suggest neither developed nor developing countries are immune to it. Loss and damage could just mean relentless innovation and relentless effective adaptation. People, get back to your drawing boards!