On 18th February 2021 the Energy and Environment Policy Centre at King’s Think Tank and King’s College London Climate Action society hosted a panel discussion on international climate policy and loss and damage in the Global South as a part of the policy centre’s theme for this semester “Governance and the environmental emergency: who takes accountability?”. The event took place as part of King’s College London’s university-wide Sustainability Month.
Environmental inequality, injustice and disproportionate climate-related impacts in the Global South are accelerating in tangent with climate breakdown, causing irreparable loss and damage in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs). This event explored the environmental injustice and inequality that the Global South faces, and the relevance of loss and damage schemes in international climate policy as a coping mechanism and means of compensation and justice for LDCs.
To discuss these important issues, we had the honour of welcoming Dr. Ian Fry, Ambassador for Climate Change and Environment for the Government of Tuvalu; Ms. Hadika Jamshaid, Climate Change specialist supporting the Ministry of Climate Change for the Government of Pakistan; and Dr. Guy Jackson, postdoctoral fellow at Lund University who carried out the project Recasting the Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change Extremes.
Loss and damage in international climate policy is the principle of acknowledging the disproportionate effects of climate change on the Global South, which cannot be avoided through mitigation or adaptation, and requires compensation from the rest of the international community. Even if the world achieves the net-zero ambition by 2050, human activity of the past 3 decades has ensured that the effects of climate change will be felt for the decades and centuries to come. Warming global temperatures has set in motion numerous feedback loops and knock-on effects, causing a myriad of climate-induced impacts. Weather systems will be influenced, causing more severe, intense and frequent natural disasters than ever before. These impacts will affect the world’s LDCs and small island developing states (SIDSs) (referred to collectively as the Global South throughout this review) the hardest. This is because they are at the highest risk of climate-induced disasters due to environmental inequality, vulnerability and lack of resilience and coping capacity. As Dr. Fry recounted, the 2015 Cyclone Pam that struck the Pacific coral-atoll islands of Tuvalu and Vanuatu impacted 60% of the GDP due to the vulnerability of the economy to climate-induced disasters.
Despite developed nations being historically responsible for nearly 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the Global South will bear at a disproportionate cost the effects of the climate breakdown. Ms. Hadika highlighted that despite Pakistan’s emissions being less than one percent of global GHG emissions, it is now in the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate-induced impacts. This is due to a host of factors, including geographical vulnerability, economic reliance on climate-dependent industry such as agriculture and tourism, and socio-economic factors that reduce local communities’ mobility or adaptation abilities. Thus, the acceleration of climate breakdown over the next century will bring with it unprecedented loss and damage to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations.
The importance of loss and damage for Global South countries is one of climate justice: vulnerable communities who aren’t responsible for the onset of climate breakdown are the ones that suffer the consequences of emissions from the Global North. Hence, Global South countries are seeking recognition and compensation for the irreparable, and often irreplaceable, loss and damage they have suffered. As succinctly put by Dr. Fry, the desire of the Global South for loss and damage provision follows the “polluter pays principle”.
Throughout the event, the “how” of assigning responsibility and legal weight to the countries responsible for loss and damage permeated discussion. A major step forward for loss and damage on the international stage was the establishment of the UNFCCC Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage in 2013 at COP19 in Poland, and the negotiation and signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21 in Paris. The aims of Global South countries going into the COP21 negotiations regarding loss and damage were two-fold:
- Firstly, Dr. Jackson, echoed by Dr. Fry, spoke on the importance of loss and damage being recognised as a distinct “third pillar of international climate action”, separate from adaptation and mitigation streams, to ensure developed countries meet their ethical obligations of compensation and liability towards loss and damage in LDCs. However, from the viewpoint of developed countries, as long as the existence of loss and damage can be denied as an area of climate action, no responsibility or liability to the impacts of climate-induced disasters in the Global South can be assigned. This was the first of the Paris Agreement’s failings on loss and damage, with Global South countries unable to have loss and damage explicitly and legally defined due to the push-back of developed countries.
- Secondly, the call for a climate finance mechanism linking compensation to financial support for communities affected by climate breakdown is not new: provision for an international insurance pool for climate-related disasters was first proposed by the Alliance of Small Island Developing States over 30 years ago in 1991. The Global South countries have been fighting for climate finance for loss and damage ever since.
Dr. Fry, who has extensive experience negotiating on behalf of the Tuvaluan government at international fora, recalled how LDCs were met with resistance during negotiations at COP21 around the implementation of a climate finance mechanism to facilitate compensation for loss and damage. Dr. Fry spoke on how developed countries, most prominently the United States and countries in the European Union, were strongly against the inclusion of loss and damage as a distinct climate stream, viewing the proposal of a finance mechanism as an “open cheque book for compensation”. This is reflected in the shortcomings of the Paris Agreement to establish a finance mechanism. As an alternative to the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement, Dr. Fry relayed how Pacific islands have been working on implementing their own Climate Change Insurance Facility as a means to introduce climate finance on a regional scale, and to form a basis for more comprehensive international action in the future.
The event then moved towards a discussion on the accountability of the private sector due to their operations in the Global South. The panellists shed light on how they perceived the degradation of land, exacerbated environmental inequality and climate-induced impacts as partly caused by the outsourcing of corporate activities. Ms. Hadika relayed how the private sector in Pakistan has been assisting in adaptation efforts for climate change, but only as far as their activities in the country were at risk. She conveyed that companies have not acknowledged loss and damage as an aspect of climate action, nor taken accountability for their activities which have intensified the effects of climate breakdown in the Global South. The incentive to ensure corporations’ economic interests in the country aren’t compromised remains higher than protecting workers and consumers from the climate-induced disasters that they have contributed to. Building on this, Dr. Jackson spoke about how the private sector will have to be “dragged, kicking and screaming” to the negotiating table to accept responsibility for their actions, with a combative litigation approach needed to overpower the business resilience motivation of the private sector intervention in favour of ethical and moral grounds to provide liability and compensation.
Speaking on stakeholder cooperation, Dr Jackson highlighted the need for inclusion of all tiers of stakeholders, particularly at the local level, in order to develop strategies on how to sustainably develop and implement loss and damage. This ensures that policies are not implemented in a rigid, top-down, internationally mandated form that doesn’t take into account the unique positions of local communities.
The panellists also shed light on what factors slow and hinder effective development of solutions to loss and damage. These included lack of knowledge, inefficiency of actions, and the absence of innovative and appropriate technology and finance flows – both between LDCs, and developed and developing countries. Ms. Hadika criticised the approach taken by international bodies such as the United Nations, where poor dissemination of information has prevented addressing climate change in an interdisciplinary manner to utilise a wider, specialised network of actors. Dr. Fry relayed that whilst the UNFCCC WIM had helped to create momentum for loss and damage on the international stage, developed countries in the executive committee are still “dragging their feet” on the key principles of compensation and liability. Dr. Fry went on to describe the alternatives to the WIM for kickstarting international action on loss and damage, including the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a network of 48 LDCs that aim to build momentum in international negotiations on loss and damage, and accelerate communication, cooperation and knowledge-sharing between vulnerable countries.
Concluding the event, the panellists spoke on the significance of international cooperation for loss and damage in the upcoming COP26 negotiations in Glasgow. Ms. Hadika stressed the importance of addressing loss and damage in countries’ Five Year plans, emphasising Pakistan’s current endeavors to opt for adaptation finances. Dr Jackson pointed towards how China, alongside other emerging economies, may play an important role in holding Global North countries accountable to increased representation for loss and damage discussions at COP26. Dr. Fry, who will be negotiating for LDCs at COP26, added that the future of loss and damage in the UNFCCC WIM and extensions to the Paris Agreement were uncertain, but that LDCs are ready “to have [the] fight again” with the Global North on development of loss and damage in international climate policy.
We wish to thank our three speakers Ian Fry, Guy Jackson and Hadika Jamshaid for providing this insightful and vital discussion on the future of loss and damage in international climate policy. To watch the event and hear the full discussion, click here. Watch out for the release of upcoming events, blogs and our annual policy journal, The Spectrum! Stay safe!
By Andrew King and Aimel Waseem
Andrew King is a final year BSc Physics with Theoretical Physics student and Working Group member for the Energy and Environment policy centre, with a passion for sustainable environmental management and climate change. He is currently producing a policy proposal on the efficacy of loss and damage in international climate policy, exploring the intersections of environmental economics, climate justice and climate breakdown in the Global South.
Aimel Waseem is a student from European and International Studies department currently pursuing her postgraduate degree in International Political Economy. She is interested in understanding geopolitics of energy markets and its environmental implications with reference to the rise of China and will be doing her dissertation on energy dynamics of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
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