Understanding Loss and Damage in the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement, adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015, aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, with a goal of pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this objective, the agreement sets out various mechanisms and goals, including the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Global Stocktake, and the Financial Mechanism. However, the Paris Agreement also recognizes that some adverse effects of climate change may be unavoidable, despite mitigation and adaptation efforts, and may result in ”loss and damage” to vulnerable countries and communities. This article explains what loss and damage mean in the context of the Paris Agreement, why they matter, and how they are addressed.
What is Loss and Damage?
The UNFCCC defines loss and damage as ”the negative effects of climate change that occur despite adaptation and mitigation efforts.” Loss refers to the irreversible or permanent damage, such as the loss of lives, ecosystems, cultures, or infrastructure, that cannot be restored or compensated. Damage refers to the harm or injury, such as the loss of crops, property, health, or livelihoods, that can be repaired or compensated, but may not be sufficient to restore the status quo ante. Loss and damage are not limited to physical impacts; they also include psychological, social, and economic impacts, such as displacement, migration, and inequality. Loss and damage can occur in various ways, such as through sea-level rise, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, or desertification.
Why Does Loss and Damage Matter?
Loss and damage matter because they affect the most vulnerable and least responsible countries and communities for climate change, which often overlap with those that face poverty, marginalization, and human rights violations. Loss and damage can also exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices, and undermine the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the UN, such as poverty eradication, gender equality, and human dignity. Loss and damage may also cause social and political instability, conflict, and forced displacement, which have regional and global consequences. Moreover, loss and damage may exceed the adaptive capacity and financial resources of countries and communities, and require international solidarity and support. Therefore, addressing loss and damage is not only a matter of climate justice but also a matter of human security and global governance.
How Is Loss and Damage Addressed in the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement acknowledges the importance of addressing loss and damage in its Article 8, which establishes the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. The WIM is a policy process that serves as a forum for sharing information, best practices, and expertise on loss and damage, as well as providing technical and financial assistance to vulnerable countries and communities. The WIM has three functions:
1. Enhancing knowledge and understanding of loss and damage, including through research, assessments, and dialogues;
2. Strengthening action and support on loss and damage, including through capacity-building, risk management, and early warning systems; and
3. Facilitating implementation and coordination of approaches to address loss and damage, including through finance, technology, and governance.
Although the WIM is not a financial mechanism, it can mobilize resources from various sources, such as the Green Climate Fund, to support the implementation of its functions. Moreover, the Paris Agreement encourages developed countries to provide financial and technological support to developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable ones, to address loss and damage, based on their historical responsibility and capability. The Paris Agreement also recognizes the need to enhance cooperation and coordination among relevant stakeholders, such as governments, civil society, indigenous peoples, and private sector, to address loss and damage effectively.
Loss and damage are the negative effects of climate change that occur despite mitigation and adaptation efforts, and can have irreparable or reparable impacts on vulnerable countries and communities. The Paris Agreement acknowledges the importance of addressing loss and damage and establishes the WIM as a policy process to enhance knowledge, strengthen action, and facilitate implementation on loss and damage. The WIM can mobilize resources from various sources and encourage international solidarity and support to address loss and damage. However, the WIM is still in its early stages, and faces challenges such as lack of clarity on its scope and mandate, limited capacity and participation, and inadequate funding. Therefore, addressing loss and damage requires continuous efforts and cooperation among all stakeholders, to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against climate change.