The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author. They are not meant to represent the views of organisations, institutions or countries mentioned here or elsewhere.
I recently participated in the African regional expert meeting on 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, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 13-15 June 2012. This meeting was the first in a series of regional expert meetings being organised under the UNFCCC’s work programme on loss and damage. I attended as an expert on climate change issues related to small island developing states (SIDS). While this was a meeting for the African region, and there are African SIDS, the organisers felt it was important to have representation at the meeting from other UN regional groups. My participation was supported by a fellowship grant from the Climate Development and Knowledge Network (CDKN) through the "Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative", a project conducted by a consortium of research and policy institutions (see www.lossanddamage.net).
My SIDS climate change expertise has been built through some seven years of work supporting the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in the UNFCCC treaty negotiating process. I am a lawyer by training with a professional background in international environmental law. My area of focus in the climate change negotiating process is adaptation – an area of significant importance, but which had historically received limited attention in the process. That changed after agreement in 2010 to the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which includes an Adaptation Committee, a national adaptation planning process for developing countries, and the work programme on loss and damage.
For AOSIS, the establishment of a work programme on loss and damage was an important first step in a long history of calling for the Convention process to address loss and damage to the adverse effects of climate change. As far back as 1991, when the UNFCCC was still being drafted, AOSIS proposed the establishment of an international insurance pool. The proposal consisted of a collective loss-sharing scheme to compensate victims of sea-level rise. The scheme was to be funded by mandatory contributions from industrialised countries based on GNP and on relative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, i.e. contributions to the fund would be based on ability to pay as well as responsibility.
The basic concept of the 1991 AOSIS proposal is still valid. The link between GHG emissions and the adverse effects of climate change is now clear, and the lack of urgency shown at the Durban climate change conference in agreeing binding global mitigation targets has increased the risk that significant loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change will in fact occur.
The work programme on loss and damage under the Cancun Adaptation Framework currently has a two-year life, through 2012. It is structured around the following three thematic areas:
Thematic area two is being addressed in the main through four expert meetings, three at the regional level and one for SIDS. The meeting in Addis Ababa was the first of these. The meeting looked at loss and damage from the impacts of climate change from a distinctly African perspective. As someone with expertise in climate change impacts in SIDS, I was pleased to have the opportunity of viewing loss and damage issues through an African lens. There are overlaps, certainly, e.g. floods, droughts and sea level rise are common impacts leading to loss and damage. But, it is how this loss and damage manifests itself on the African continent with its vast tracts of land, versus on very small islands, circumscribed by vast expanses of ocean, where differences will begin to arise.
Nevertheless, the sharing of priority areas and action taken to address them across regions is critical. Mozambique’s response to flood damage exacerbated by tropical cyclones is one example where SIDS could benefit from lessons learned. Likewise, the arrangements put in place in Ethiopia to reduce food shortages related to drought – including through early warning systems and risk financing mechanisms – could be applied to efforts in SIDS to reduce loss and damage from hurricanes and cyclones. It also could be very useful to share experiences from regional efforts to address weather-related disasters, such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) project, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) and the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing initiative (PCRAFI).
One of the concerns I have after the African meeting is how easy it is to slip into discussing traditional approaches to disaster risk management. The loss and damage we are addressing under this work programme is the result of man-made climate change. The IPCC’s Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) states that
…a changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events…
Therefore, it is imperative that we, in exploring and developing approaches to address loss and damage to this changing climate, factor in the additional burden created by it.
Finally, the mandate of the work programme requires Parties to look at both approaches for dealing with climate change-related extreme weather events and slow onset processes, including sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification. Needless to say, sea level rise and ocean acidification are climate-related problems that are of central concern to island nations, because they threaten their very survival. A slot on the African meeting agenda was given over to slow onset approaches, but more work needs to be done to build depth and breadth into the treatment of this issue at the subsequent expert meetings under the work programme.
London, July 2012