COP 25: Loss And Damage Inches On, But Is Toothless And Homeless

Posted on Sat 12/14/2019 by


By David Wojick, Ph.D. ~

Loss and Damage (L&D) is the name of the hugely dangerous issue whereby developed countries would compensate the developing world for damages caused by things like bad weather and rising seas, in the name of climate change. It has been slowly inching forward at every COP.

This time L&D made yet another advance. While it is still harmless, it is worth looking at. This is also a chance to see what a COP text looks like and why it takes so many national delegates so long to write them.

The draft text, adopted Monday, is here:

It is basically a seven page nothing burger at this point. However, every word has had to be agreed to by every country at the table, so there are probably a lot of hidden meanings and agendas in play.

To begin with, this is not yet the draft of a decision, because it contains several sets of options. In each case one of the options, or something else, would have to be adopted to make a decision out of the text. The option sets each suggest a wide range of possible actions.

Nor has any of it been actually adopted by the COP. The COP proceeds in two stages and this draft has merely been approved in the first stage for possible consideration by the second stage, called the ministerial phase. This is when the national executives weigh in, especially the environment and finance ministers.

The fact that this draft text cleared the first phase does not mean that it will be taken up by the second. But given that every one of the nearly 200 member countries has a veto, it is a big step for the L&D text just to go to the second stage.

As to specifics, for a start this possible L&D decision is homeless. The very first line says that the governing body or bodies to ultimately adopt this decision is as yet unspecified. The first phase of each COP is carried out by two subsidiary bodies, while the second phase is the COP acting as a whole. Thus there are three possible adopters, which differ greatly in significance.

Then too the draft text is toothless, because all it actually calls for is more study and more cooperation. Actual compensation is not called for, not yet anyway. Yet that is clearly where L&D is headed, as the developing countries make clear. They frequently cite the horrendous losses due to hurricanes and typhoons, droughts and floods, etc., basically assuming (falsely) that these are all part of human caused climate change.

There are several interesting features, nonetheless. For example, the concept of loss and damage actions has been expanded to include minimizing L&D. This in effect merges L&D with adaptation.

The reason to do this is because there is already an Adaptation Fund, while an L&D Fund cannot get approved. The L&D proponent’s strategy here is to try to get money through the side door, that they cannot get directly through the front door.

Also, it is repeatedly mentioned that assistance (especially funding) should specifically go to countries with special needs or vulnerability. As of now this official category includes just the small island states and the least developed countries. But here at COP 25 both Africa and South America as a whole are trying to get that status. This is to position themselves for more L&D assistance, if it ever comes. Obviously the more countries are eligible for compensation, the greater the cost.

Another interesting feature is the repeated statement that things like slow onset events, human mobility (whatever that means) and non-economic damages should be included under Loss and Damage. This is potentially a huge expansion in the scope and cost of L&D.

The upshot is that Loss and Damage is going nowhere fast for now, but it is moving forward. It also appears to be trying to get a lot bigger. Clearly Loss and Damage is a dangerous critter, one worth watching closely.

David Wojick contributes Posts at the CFACT site. He is a journalist and policy analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.

Read more excellent articles at CFACT