Loss and Damage: A Framework for Climate Justice

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Posted by: Kaustav Ghosal and Debapriya Chanda
Category: Climate change

Tracing the global discourse 

As humanity finds itself at the crossroads of economic progress and sustainable development, climate change has become one of the major burning issues that our generation needs to address and solve. To quote the famous US lawmaker and climate activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “For young people, climate change is bigger than election or re-election, it’s life or death”. To combat such a monstrous problem, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its member states work together to find effective and amicable solutions.  

The recently concluded COP-27 explored the option of Loss & Damage (L&D), a concept relevant to developing countries like India. In a nutshell, L&D refers to the impacts that occur in the form of extreme weather events or slow onset events due to past, current, and projected future emissions. Although it seems pretty straightforward at first glance, this subject has been at the forefront in most of the recently conducted United Nations negotiations because of the global politics surrounding this idea.  

As we know, developing countries and Small Island States (SIS) were relatively late in starting on the trajectory of economic development compared to the developed countries, which benefitted massively from the industrial revolution. Such rapid development also yielded greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a harmful by-product. According to data from Ourworldindata.org, Global Carbon Project states that “between 1751 and 2017, 47% of the CO2 emissions came from the US and the EU-28”, i.e., a total of only 29 countries. 

Loss and Damage: A Framework for Climate Justice
Per capita CO2 emissions 

 

Despite being one of the fastest growing nations, India’s per capita GHG emission is 2.46 tonnes compared to 17.54 tonnes and 20.7 tonnes of the United States and Canada, respectively.  

Furthermore, developing nations face unique challenges in terms of their geographical locations and limited financial and institutional capacities to cope with the effects of climate change. For example, villages had to be relocated due to rising sea levels in Fiji, while climate change induced loss and damage in coastal Tanzania. As a result of such discrepancy, developing countries are asking for accountability from developed nations in the form of compensation for the cumulative damage inflicted on the planet at large.  

However, developed countries have always tried to push L&D under the broader head of adaptation. In essence, adaptation measures refer to short-term measures to reduce the negative impacts of climate change as much as possible. It includes building better drainage systems to tackle the rising number of severe storms or shifting to Climate Resilient Practices (CRP) for agriculture and horticulture production. Consequently, developing countries are pushing for a third fund like L&D for issues which do not fall under the purview of either adaptation or mitigation. For example, under the existing mechanism, irreparable losses like loss of lives or land taken over by sea cannot be compensated by either adaptation or mitigation. 

After years of negotiation, the first major breakthrough was the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage at COP-19 in 2013. The Paris Agreement held at COP-21 also proved instrumental in that a separate article (Article 8) addressing this issue was included in the agreement’s final draft.  

COP-26: India’s role 

At the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-26), India made five significant commitments on climate action: 

  • reach 500 GW non-fossil energy capacity,  
  • source 50% of its energy requirements from renewable energy,  
  • reduce total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes,  
  • reduce the carbon intensity of the economy by 45% over 2005 levels by 2030 and,  
  • achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2070.  

Alongside this, India has also been vocal about the need for developed countries to rapidly scale up support for L&D and commit to achieving net zero emissions before 2050. According to the Global Climate Risk Index published by GermanWatch, a global environmental thinktank, India is among the top 10 vulnerable countries regarding climate-induced disasters. This debate, therefore, becomes all the more crucial for India.      

COP-27: A promising start with miles to go 

The COP-27 summit has faced a series of deadlocks over a proposal to create a new financial facility to fund countries damaged by climate disasters. Developed nations led by the US are keen on financing L&D through existing financial instruments instead of creating new infrastructure. While the G-77 and China group, the largest negotiating block comprising 134 developing countries, including India, have been pushing for a separate dedicated finance facility. There are also strong disagreements regarding who should benefit from L&D and who should contribute to it, with developed countries, including the USA and the European Union, demanding that major economies like China and India contribute to the fund. They have also proposed that the benefits should accrue only to the most vulnerable countries and not all G-77 countries. India has countered this narrative by pointing out that their share of cumulative emissions of CO2 has been only 5% since 1990, despite it being home to more than one-sixth of the world population. This debate saw the end of the tunnel when after multiple debates and deliberations at COP-27, an agreement to establish an L&D fund was duly passed.  

In conclusion, Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, sums up the Global South’s voice: “We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution. Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution? That is fundamentally unfair.”  

A just and equitable way forward hinges on the L&D fund materializing by the end of COP-28, key stakeholders coming together to acknowledge and support vulnerable countries, and the global community embarking on a path of redressal and recovery.   

Kaustav Ghosal – Deputy Research Manager, Sambodhi

Debapriya Chanda – Deputy Research Manager, Sambodhi

Author: Kaustav Ghosal and Debapriya Chanda