Deadlock in Doha over damages funding


Analysis:As yet another typhoon hit the Philippines yesterday, negotiators at the UN climate change conference here were locking horns over one of the thorniest issues on the agenda – financial compensation for “loss and damage” due to the impacts of global warming.

The talks went on all night, breaking up at 7.15am with no agreement. Poorer countries want a new mechanism to deal with the issue while their richer counterparts would prefer to see it buried in the adaptation committee, or somewhere else.

A new report released in Doha showed that island communities in the Pacific Ocean “are facing unprecedented challenges to their economies and environment from the impacts of climate change” – including sea level rise, tropical cyclones, floods and drought.

These type of threats were all supposed to be prevented by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted by acclamation 20 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, however, things have only got worse.

“For the first 10 years of the UNFCCC process, we thought that mitigation was the solution and we spent a lot of time and effort on that,” Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said yesterday.

“But we weren’t able to prevent or avoid some degree of global warming and, therefore, for the last 10 years we’ve been talking about adaptation as a second solution because we will have to deal with some unavoidable and inevitable impacts of climate change.”

Universal issue

Huq believes the world has now entered “the third era of the climate change problem, in which both mitigation and adaptation have failed to prevent significant losses and damages . . . and we’re going to have to think about how to deal with them” – starting in Doha.

He stressed that it’s no longer just a problem for poor developing countries, such as Bangladesh, which has proved itself quite resilient in dealing with regular serious flooding. As Superstorm Sandy showed, even rich countries like the US could suffer serious losses.

“New York is now facing of the order of $50 to $100 billion worth of loss and damage, even in the most advanced technological country in the world, and all countries will have to face it, so it’s a universal issue, not just a developing country issue,” Huq said.

Cyclones, hurricanes and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense because of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions “by certain people in certain countries that are going to be affecting other people in other countries”.

The richer countries had agreed to prevent dangerous climate change, “but in practice they didn’t do much, so emissions kept on growing and temperatures kept on rising”, he said. “There’s a strong element of justice – I would call it injustice – that needs to be addressed.”

As this raised the issue of historical liability and the associated issue of compensation, Huq said there was “fierce resistance” by richer countries to what they regard as a “taboo subject”, matched by a determination by vulnerable nations to keep it on the agenda.

Existential threat

For low-lying, small island states it’s an existential threat. Koko Warner of the United Nations University said they are asking the rich countries: “Are we going to be okay? Can you tell us we’re going to be okay? Are we going to make it through climate change?”

According to Kelly Dent of Oxfam, the issue of climate finance could “make or break” the Doha conference as developing countries “have their guns blazing” over it. Yesterday Britain and Switzerland pledged “new and additional” money for the Green Climate Fund.

But Thomas Loster, chairman of the Munich Re Foundation – set up by one of the world’s biggest insurance companies – said it wasn’t only about money but about “showing solidarity and building resilience”. The question was whether the negotiators in Doha were listening.