Climate Change: Paradigm Shift Needed?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was signed and ratified almost two decades ago to tackle the threat of human induced interference in the global atmosphere, has gone through several paradigm shifts over the last two decades. It is on the brink of making a new paradigm shift on the issue of “loss and damage” from climate change. The issues are described below.

The original framing of the problem (and hence the solution to it as well), was about “prevention” of “dangerous interference” in the global climate. Under this paradigm the problem was the continuing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), mainly from burning fossil fuels such a coal petrol and natural gas, and hence the solution was to reduce these emissions in future by global action through “mitigation.” Thus the initial years of the UNFCCC process, including the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997, focused entirely on mitigation. Since, at that time, most of the emissions were being made by the developed countries the mitigation actions were confined to those countries only.

A decade later, the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out in 2001, and highlighted the fact that GHG continue to rise (despite agreements to reduce them) and that a certain amount of climate change was now inevitable and unavoidable over the next two decades. Hence a new solution needed to be added to mitigation, namely “adaptation,” to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The IPCC report made a further point that most of the adverse impacts would fall on the poorer developing countries, which were already unable to deal effectively with current climate impact, hence there was now a direct link between the climate change issue and development.

This led to greater awareness of the issue in developing countries and also the engagement of the global development community.

As we turn into the third decade of dealing with climate change there may be a need to add a new paradigm. This is because the first two paradigms, of mitigation and adaptation, both deal with the problem of prevention of #LossAndDamage (in the case of mitigation by avoiding damages from emissions by not making those emissions and in the case of adaptation by minimising anticipated damages by taking pro-active measures before the impacts occur).

In neither case do we deal with the problem of how to deal with such damages after they occur.

The UNFCCC, as a treaty, is designed to deal with the two paradigms of preventing dangerous climate change and not with dealing with damages after they occur.

Nevertheless, some vulnerable developing countries, led by the small island states, have been pushing for a work programme to be undertaken under the UNFCCC on “Loss and Damage” for some years. It has been strongly resisted by the developed countries, as they fear it will open up the twin taboo subjects (from their perspective) of dealing with “liability” and “compensation.”

However, at the sixteenth Conference of Parties #COP16 of the UNFCCC held in Cancun, Mexico in 2010, the small island sates were strongly supported by the least developed countries #LDC group (with the #Bangladesh delegation playing a key role) and succeeded in getting some language into the Cancun Agreement on loss and damage.

This was further developed into a “work programme on loss and damage” at COP18 held in Durban in December 2011, again with strong support from the LDCs with the Bangladesh delegation playing a leading role.

The Durban Work Programme on loss and damage consists of the following three thematic areas:

Thematic area 1: Assessing the risk of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change and the current knowledge on the same.

Thematic area 2: A range of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events and slow onset events, taking into consideration experience at all levels.

Thematic area 3: The role of the convention in enhancing the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage associated with adverse effects of climate change.

There will be a series of workshops on each theme and submissions from parties in September ,and then at COP19, to be held in Doha, Qatar in December 2012, a decision will be agreed for further work.

The government of Bangladesh has asked the Climate Change Development Network (an international initiative to support developing countries on climate change issues) to initiate a global study on loss and damage on behalf of the LDCs, and this study has been awarded (following an international competition) to a consortium of institutions led by GermanWatch in Germany, with the United Nations University (UNU), the International Centre for Climate Change and Development #ICCCAD at the Independent University, Bangladesh, Brac University and the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS) to carry out different components of the study.

Now that the UNFCCC has recognised that responsibility for implementing approaches to addressing loss and damage ultimately lies with national governments, there is a need to understand the national context and the range of implementation options available for loss and damage at the national level. That said, progress in one countryin this case Bangladeshcan inform other LDCs in potential pathways for understanding and implementing loss and damage. The Bangladesh-specific component of the initiative is being carried out with three objectives in mind. First, the understanding of the GoB, stakeholders and LDC negotiators of the international process, especially those relevant to national policies and activities, will be enhanced. Second, stakeholder-based activities to move loss and damage forward in Bangladesh will be identified. Third, the work in Bangladesh to develop both an understanding of and approaches to loss and damage will inform other LDCs in developing their own loss and damage strategies.

The study findings will be shared at a workshop in Bangladesh to be held in October 2012 prior to COP19.

The issue of tackling potential loss and damage from climate change is a new, but extremely important, area of work, specially for vulnerable countries like Bangladesh who are almost certain to suffer severe loss and damage (despite efforts at adaptation) and the international community needs to develop mechanisms for dealing with such loss and damage after they occur. Thus the need for a new paradigm of dealing with the inevitable consequences of loss and damage from climate change that goes beyond mitigation and adaptation which have been the main paradigms so far.

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



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