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What is loss and damage, why is it critical, and what outcomes are needed from COP25?

November 29, 2019

Amid the escalating climate emergency, policy makers from nearly 200 countries will gather in Madrid, Spain, next week for another annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25). The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance urges policy makers to deliver a strong outcome that is aligned with the needs of the most vulnerable and those already facing climate induced Loss and Damage.

What is loss and damage and how is it different from adaptation?

The global failure to prevent climate change is forcing people and communities across the world, particularly in vulnerable contexts, to deal with the consequences. These are exceeding communities’ capacity to adapt and resulting in unavoidable impacts referred to as Loss and Damage. 

Communities around the world are losing land and shelter due to increased floods and landslides, they are facing displacement as sea levels are rising and glaciers are melting. Permanent loss of statehood, ecosystems and cultural heritage is becoming a reality for many. The latest report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that even with major adaptation efforts, residual risks and associated losses are going to occur. This is a deep injustice to the poor and vulnerable people who have done nothing to cause this crisis.   

Why is current action on loss and damage inadequate?

In 2013, COP 19 established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) to address loss and damage associated with climate change. WIM has three functions: 

  • to enhance knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches;
  • strengthen dialogue and coordination;
  • deliver enhanced action and support including finance, technology and capacity-building.

Over the years, the WIM has accomplished some progress on raising awareness on the issue of loss and damage including through its task force on displacement. However, it has failed to mobilise the investment and support that developing countries need. 

Additionally, the current focus on post event disaster response needs to shift towards prospective risk reduction without which the demands on loss and damage finance will further escalate.

What needs to happen on loss and damage at COP25?

Even if COP25 results in action to prevent further dangerous climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the recommended 1.5°C, the scientific evidence shows that loss and damage will continue to occur. Hence governments must agree on mechanisms and processes to provide adequate support for vulnerable countries and communities to address this. 

Based on our cross-sectoral experience in flood resilience and implementation of climate resilient community programmes the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance calls for the review of WIM taking place at COP25 to aim for the following outcomes, as outlined in our submission

  • Establish a mechanism under the UNFCCC to leverage and mobilise new and additional loss and damage finance. Studies have calculated that extreme weather events already cause an average of $92bn in losses in developing countries each year. This excludes slow onset events, which are predicted to cost developing countries from $116–435bn in 2020, rising to $290–580bn in 2030. WIM should be equipped with the mandate to create a financing facility which is able to mobilise the required funding and can deliver investments where the need is greatest. 
  • Increase public finance through identifying and tapping into new sources outside of aid budgets. Public finance is essential to provide adequate and predictable support to those who need it the most, especially those who may be poorly connected to markets, or whose resilience depends on basic essential services. To do this more work is needed to access existing financial mechanisms as well as exploring new and innovative sources to plug existing gaps. We must recognise that as loss and damage is already happening we need funds mobilised now, one interim option to do this, would be to explore integration of Loss and Damage finance into existing climate finance mechanisms such as the Global Environment Fund and the Green Climate Fund. 
  • Recognise that loss and damage finance must go beyond insurance. Insurance is being advanced as one component of addressing loss and damage, however unless insurance is directly linked to resilience building, it alone may not reach the poorest and those worst affected by the irreversible impacts of climate change, and it will do little to reduce escalating loss and damage.
  • Ensure an inclusive international process to respond to the growing challenge. The current space for discussion on means of implementation (finance, technology and capacity building) for developing countries to act on loss and damage under the WIM is limited. COP25 should agree on establishing a task force under the executive committee that primarily works to advance the elements of action and support. This should include representation from diverse stakeholders including civil society as this strengthens inclusive decision making, technical competency, accountability, and scientific validity.
  • Direct the working group on comprehensive risk management to identify and advance common approaches on risk assessment, managing risk, building resilience, and monitoring and reporting on action in response to loss and damage.
  • Decide to periodically assess the financing needs and gaps in light of increasing climate change impacts. 

In summary, COP25 must conduct a forward looking review of WIM and decide on establishing the mechanisms and processes outlined above to mobilise enhanced support for developing countries and vulnerable communities to tackle loss and damage. 

This blog has been edited to accurately represent the views of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance. 


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