Role Warsaw International Mechanism should play for addressing Loss and Damage

By Rushati Das

At the COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (Loss and Damage Mechanism) was established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework.

This WIM body was established is to address loss and damage caused by climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events including salinization, sea-level rise and increase of heatwaves in regions in both developed and developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

The main aim of Warsaw International Mechanism is ‘enhancing knowledge and understand comprehensive risk management approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including slow onset impacts, by “facilitating and promoting’ and also ‘enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, so as to enable countries to undertake actions pursuant to decision 3/CP.18, paragraph 6“.

There has been a marked acceleration in global warming since the mid-20th century with an average temperature increase of 1°C. The effects are clearly visible, and slow onset damages have increased throughout the world.

According to a report by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR)Six Himalayan glaciers are retreating at a pace of 13-33 mm every year.” The melting of the ice caps also contributes to the sea level rise. This year Europe faced a week-long heatwave where the maximum temperature hit at around 42-45°C. Farmers around the world are coping with drought and irregular monsoons resulting in decrease in agricultural production. UN Labour Agency (ILO) has predicted that 34 million full-time workers in agriculture and construction sector will lose their livelihood because of global warming.

Thanks to improved efforts by the disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) authorities may have resulted in a substantial reduction in loss of lives due to disasters but the economic losses are huge. The Kerala floods of 2018 resulted in an economic loss of 3 Billion USD and super cyclone Fani demolished infrastructure and economy of Puri and Bhubaneswar of Orissa causing a loss of around 700Cr INR according to reports.

Thus the climate-induced slow-onset disaster on loss and damage is a threshold for human life as well as socio-economic aspects. But there’s a huge gap between situation on ground and ongoing initiatives of international bodies like UNFCCC-WIM and UNISDR. In the Paris Agreement, Parties agreed to undertake collective efforts to keep global average temperatures below 1.5°C. However, the nationally determined contributions which countries submitted in the lead up to the Paris Conference translate into global average warming closer to 3°C.

In order to address the impact issues of Loss and Damage, the Executive Committee of WIM is reviewing terms of reference (TORs) of its work plan at the 25th Conference of Parties in Madrid later this year. The objective of the review is to “assess progress to date; identifying ways to enhance and strengthen the WIM, including informing future discussions on Article 8 of the Paris Agreement”. The last round of talks in Bonn during SB50 acknowledged in the UNFCCC process that ‘loss and damage includes, and in some cases involves more than, what needs to be done to build resilience through adaptation’.

In my opinion, urgent measures are required at policy and practice level to address loss and damage affecting the communities. So far the decision-makers are too slow and falling short on –

  1. Finance for loss and damage – that is not currently explicitly tracked and reported as a distinct category. Neither conventional financial landscape currently categorizes certain types of finance as ‘finance for addressing loss and damage’ nor the UNFCCC and other multilateral funds or typical bilateral financial support is labelled as such. The lack of demarcation of loss and damage, absence of common understanding and of classification or tagging of associated finance pose significant challenges in resource flow for urgent measures like supporting alternative livelihoods, rehabilitating displaced communities and restoring the non-economical aspects like culture and heritage. Thus earmarking exclusive climate finance from public sources is dire need to protect those losing the basis of life and livelihoods.
  2. Promote research and map co-relation with ground realities – The loss and damages is changing the basic way of life for communities that has even forced them to migrate for better earning opportunities. Unfortunately, there is no technical definition that defines such kind of ‘migration / displacement’. Science is always the basis to frame response and in absence of scientific co-relation, the impacts of loss and damages are not recognised by policymakers and thus leaves a huge gap in situation on ground and necessary policy response for relief. WIM should have the mandate to guide the scientific community and promote research on this aspect in close coordination with Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  3. Define the role of the private sector – So far, insurance has been projected as best way to provide security net for climate uncertainties to small and marginal farmers or those likely to face the wrath of disasters and prone to losses and damages. Though ‘someone’s distress should not be an opportunity for other’s’, it also the fact that the quantum of financial and technological resources required to address the deteriorating situation on the ground, private sector need to be considered as an important partner. However, its role and extent to which is should interfere need to be defined by policymakers and WIM can take lead in that. The role of the private sector needs to be based on ethics and to achieve climate justice. A regulatory mechanism to monitoring disbursements of funds or collection of funds from the private sector should be stringent and transparent.

The delay in framing a mandate to WIM that can translate decisions as action on ground would mean millions are affected and would be vulnerable to exploitation and may result in violation of human rights. As I write my assessment in form of this article, I am also disheartened to realise that with the kind of situation for poor in developing countries, this demand is already late.

Rushati Das is Programme Officer at Climate Action Network South Asia.