Marrakech: modest progress on loss and damage, but more on the horizon

An area equivalent to the size of England has been flooded and more than 12.5 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. DFID has earmarked £64million in response to the UN's Pakistan appeal.eal.
Teaser Image Caption
Aerial view of flooding in Sukkur, Sindh Province

Marrakech was never going to write history on loss and damage in the same way that Paris did in 2015. Whilst the progress made in the Paris Agreement was tangible at Marrakech, rich countries didn’t allow a real breakthrough yet. The Marrakech talks did, however, lay some groundwork for future progress. The next COP will be a “Pacific” COP, sure to focus minds on those on the front lines of climate change.

Progress on loss and damage took a breather at the Marrakech climate talks, but there’s signs that 2017 is going to be a big year.

Loss and damage is when the impacts of climate change go beyond what it is possible to adapt to. Last year’s Paris Climate Agreement enshrined loss and damage as a third pillar, alongside reducing emissions and adapting to climate change.  After decades of rich countries denying that there was such a thing as loss and damage this was A Big Deal.  

Such significant progress in Paris changed assumptions in the lead up to Marrakech.  The Paris Agreement includes an acknowledgement that finance is necessary to help the most vulnerable people deal with the worst impacts of climate change.  As a result, at Marrakech finance for loss and damage was more high profile than it has ever been.  Whilst the talks didn’t capitalize on this with concrete finance commitments, Marrakech did open a number of pathways forward.  Now we’ll have to move swiftly to build on these.

Firstly, countries told the body tasked to deal with loss and damage, the WIM (or Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage), that it must put in place a “strategic workstream” on finance for loss and damage.  And begin work early next year. This should put an end to rich countries efforts to block this work.  This strategic workstream needs to start working out how much money is needed.  Current estimates vary, but $50 billion is seen as a low estimate for what is needed right now to help most vulnerable countries deal with loss and damage.  The strategic workstream on finance should also work out how to raise funds, including looking at industries like the fossil fuel industry and the aviation industry.  These industries are responsible for high levels of pollution, causing the majority of climate change, and they currently pay little or no net tax.  Using a polluter pays approach would allow finance for loss and damage to come from the industries causing climate change, and not from tax-payers or treasury budgets.

Marrakech also gave signals that the WIM needs more resources to do its work properly.  It’s dealing with a huge list of areas, including: migration and displacement from climate change; loss and damage that happens from slow events like sea level rise, desertification and glaciers melting; losses from non-economic things like identity, culture and language; how to implement systems like insurance as one way to deal with risk; as well as how to provide financial, technological and capacity building support.  So developing countries really wanted a proper review to take stock of whether the WIM is capable of doing the job that it has been mandated to do.  Unfortunately, they didn’t win this battle and a proper review has been pushed to 2019.  But their point was made clearly – the WIM needs to achieve more, especially on finance.  There was a call for countries to provide more financial resources to the WIM to allow it to do its work, and to give more political resources as well.  All countries were asked to appoint a loss and damage focal point – if they do this it should increase the focus and understanding of loss and damage.

This, and other agreements at Marrakech, add up to significant momentum going in to 2017 on loss and damage – especially on the important issue of financial support for the vulnerable people on the front line of climate change.  And next year Fiji will be President of the COP[1] .  Despite being a small country with very low emissions (just 0.04% of global emissions) Fiji takes climate action seriously – they were the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement, they pledged to go 100% renewable energy within 15 years, and they are investing in resilient food crops and desalination plants in the face of increasing droughts.  A Fijian Presidency will help focus COP23 on loss and damage.  Fiji is on the front line of climate impacts. Early in 2016 Cyclone Winston hit Fiji. With sustained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, and gusts of over 200 miles per hour, Winston was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.  Winston killed 44 people, destroyed entire communities, destroyed or damaged 40,000 homes, infrastructure such as schools, ports and power lines, and the agriculture industry and crops.  A “Pacific” COP in 2017 offers the perfect opportunity to focus the minds of international negotiators, civil society, the media and the public on how to put in place support for the most vulnerable people facing the worst impacts of climate change.  With the procedural pathways agreed at Marrakech, and the leadership and example of Fiji, backed up by the Pacific, it’s possible that COP23 may become the “loss and damage COP”.

[1] Fiji will be President of COP23, but the meeting will actually be hosted in Germany, as Fiji doesn’t have the resources to host such a big meeting.