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Thursday, November 22, 2012
OP-ED

Politics Of Climate Change

COP18 in Doha: Loss and damage

The eighteenth Conference of Parties (COP18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) starts in Doha, Qatar, on November 26 and end on December 7. There are a number of important topics for negotiators to resolve at Doha, including the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the level of ambition of mitigation targets, financing for mitigation and adaptation, actions on adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation, land degradation (REDD), technology transfer and a new and emerging topic of Loss and Damage.

I will describe each of the main issues being discussed over the next few columns and then summarise the outcomes after it is over.

In my last column I wrote about adaptation and in this one I will deal with Loss and Damage.

This topic was first raised in the negotiations some years ago by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the political group of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which is one of three groups of developing countries which are recognised to be "particularly vulnerable" (the other groups being the Least Developed Countries and Africa).

The main topic of concern for all three groups of vulnerable countries has been adaptation to climate change (and financing adaptation). However, for the small island states in particular, there is a limit to their ability to adapt. For example if the entire country of Kiribati goes under water there is no more adaptation left for them.

Thus these countries have been arguing for an "international mechanism on loss and damage" to deal with the residual losses and damage after adaptation.

The reaction from the rich countries has been consistently negative to this proposal (to them it seemed to be really a proposal for an" international fund for compensation and liability"!).

However, in COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010, as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, with the strong support of the LDC and Africa Groups, the topic of Loss and Damage was finally agreed to be included (without defining what was to be done about it).

Then in COP17 in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011 the countries agreed to have a one-year "Work Programme on Loss and Damage" and then decide what to do next in Doha at COP 18. This work programme consisted of a series of regional workshops in Tokyo, Addis Ababa, Mexico City, Bangkok, Barbados and Bonn along with an invitation for submissions from Parties and others. The results of all these workshops and submissions will now feed into the negotiations in Doha and the next steps negotiated there.

The main issue at the moment is the lack of clarity both about the terms "loss and damage" (they seem to mean different things to different people) and also about the "international mechanism." These will be the main negotiating issues, with AOSIS (backed by the LDCs and Africa) arguing for strong actions to be taken, while the rich countries try to agree to the weakest possible outcomes. It will certainly be an interesting topic for the negotiations in Doha.

Bangladesh has consistently been playing a strong supporting role on this topic and was instrumental in getting the LDC Group to support AOSIS and achieve the breakthrough in Cancun. Since Durban, the government of Bangladesh has again played a proactive role in persuading a funder called Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) to support a major research programme on behalf of all the vulnerable countries. CDKN then made a global call for proposals and awarded it to a consortium consisting of GermanWatch (a German NGO that carried out liaison with the main vulnerable country negotiators), the Institute for Environment and Human Security (EHS) of the United Nations University (UNU) based in Bonn, Germany (that supervised a series of eight country case studies from Asia, Africa and Latin America) and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), that carried out a national level exercise involving a number of national experts from Brac University, North South University, Chittagong University, BIDS and others.

The Bangladeshi team of experts, working in close collaboration with the government, carried out a series of studies examining different aspects of loss and damage, including physical aspects, economic aspects, gender aspects, legal aspects and others, which have been shared at a series of national stakeholder workshops. Bangladeshi experts have also been invited to participate in several of the international expert workshops. Thus Bangladeshi experts and negotiators have developed considerable expertise on this topic, which should enable them to support a good outcome from Doha.

The topic of Loss and Damage is still a very new one, and also very important one, as it opens up a major new strategy to respond to climate change beyond mitigation and adaptation. The discussions around this topic are still in their infancy but will undoubtedly grow in importance over time. Bangladesh has an opportunity to be a leader on this topic.

The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh and Senior Fellow at the London based International Institute for Environment and Development.

E-mail: Saleemul.huq@iied.org

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