With day three of the COP upon us one of the salient themes that continued to color the negotiators opening statements and passionate pleas were descriptions of the devastating natural disasters and extreme events occurring in their home countries. From the Thailand floods where over 600 lives were lost to the ongoing famine in Somalia in which millions continue to face starvation and widespread displacement, these countries were quick to remind the world of the exacting toll that climate change has brought upon them. For many living in these vulnerable regions, climate change is not a distant threat, but a harsh reality and their negotiators were sure to remind the room of who’s paying the price.
These human and economic costs were further catalogued in the recently released IPCC report on extreme events (SREX) which highlighted changes in climatic conditions such as temperature and storm intensity and identified key factors shaping human vulnerability. Referencing the report this morning IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri urged parties to let the voice of sound science and these escalating costs of inaction to guide the negotiations… a clear deviation from the politicking that often typifies the UNFCCC process.
So how exactly are countries responding to these increasing risks? Last year in Cancun Parties agreed to establish a work program to consider how best to reduce the severity of damages and losses associated with climate change impacts in vulnerable countries. Since the agreement both countries and civil society have provided submissions on options for risk management and reduction, risk sharing and transfer and the role of the Convention for addressing these issues. However, while there is an overwhelming consensus that implementing measures to guard against the adverse impacts is essential, Parties remain divided on the appropriate form to deliver that protection. With the first draft text on loss and damages now circulated, Parties need to build on the positive momentum for implementing these risk reducing measures and take the necessary steps to develop the international response to loss and damages into an actionable mechanism for COP 18. As negotiators jostle over the appropriate form for addressing loss and damages the key issues to tackle will be: how to assess risk, the possible range of approaches and the role of the convention will play in implementing agreed upon measures.
Decisions in Durban on loss and damages are only intended to set the framework for more concrete actions at COP 18; however a cursory glance at international headlines replete with devastation of fires, floods, and famine only further highlight the urgency for moving this important work forward.