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Guest Column: Lost in Negotiation


By August Granath | 12/16/18

By Friday, the last scheduled day of COP, most observers had gone home. Negotiators had spent the night in meeting rooms and delegation offices. In the corridors, people fretted about the outcome of this article and that paragraph and expressed concern about the self-interested positions of developed country parties.

In Section E of the conference center, far away from the heart of the negotiations, a side event titled Financing Loss and Damage in LDCs offered a window into the intricacies of an issue at risk of being left behind by Katowice. Sunil Acharya, a representative of Practical Action Nepal, began by describing the impacts of climate change already being felt in his home country. The peak of the tallest mountain in Nepal had shrunk by 50 meters, the valleys were dealing with newly unpredictable flooding, and suffered new drought. He pointed out that the federal government of Nepal had not sufficiently addressed these issues, let alone planned for the future as climate change intensifies.

Five years ago, at the last COP held in Poland, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (L&D) enshrined the concept that the impacts already being felt by climate change needed to be addressed by the international community. In Paris, this was carried forward by an article of the agreement that called for finance to be put towards remedying loss and damage. The Paris Work Programme being negotiated at Katowice was to turn this article into action. Unfortunately, with the closing plenary scheduled for Friday evening, things weren’t looking good for L&D at COP24.

Adam Barbosa, the lead L&D negotiator for Timor Leste, offered a view into what was taking place behind closed doors. He pointed out that developed countries are generally wary of making hard and fast rules that would make the prescription of finance for L&D explicit as they don’t want to “write a blank check.” This concern is real, as the need for L&D finance may be roughly $300 billion by 2030 according to the Climate Action Network. However, the countries disproportionately facing the brunt of these impacts, like Barbosa’s Timor Leste, have no way of covering these costs. He pointed out with frustration that L&D had been relegated to the footnotes of the current draft text despite his and other negotiators best efforts. He said that developed country parties were trying to lump L&D in with adaptation funding, a contentious issue, saying “don’t try to renegotiate Paris. Don’t try to renegotiate Warsaw… This is exactly what they are trying to do.”

Fast forward to Sunday and the dust has settled. COP24 is over and final language has been adopted. Where does L&D stand? Well, it wasn’t totally left behind. But all of the relevant language is weak and fails to address the core issue. As many pins around the venue stated: WTF? Where is the finance?

The final text mentions that a technical dialogue to support a global stocktake of climate action taken under the Paris agreement must look at efforts to “avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”

It also encourages countries to provide information “related to enhancing understanding, action and support, on a cooperative and facilitative basis, to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts.” This action is not mandatory for parties to the agreement. The final language also encourages the Standing Committee on Finance to “provide input” to a report by the Warsaw Loss and Damage committee “on the sources of financial support” for the issue.

Although negotiators managed to get it into the final text, there is no doubt that advocates for L&D have been disappointed by the outcome of Katowice. As an observer, being able to see how a contentious issue such as L&D was negotiated at COP24 was incredibly revealing. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of how a complicated 133-page text of international law is created and what its outcomes really mean for people like Sunil and the rest of his country.

What can we do to make a difference? Saleemul Huq, a well-known adaptation researcher from Bangladesh, called for more research on L&D. As he pointed out in a comment during the side event, the IPCC doesn’t perform original research. It compiles existing literature. With IPCC 6 coming out in 2 years, Huq implored the folks in the room to publish work that could be included in the IPCC so that it can influence future COPs, and hopefully move the needle. With an International Affairs capstone coming up in the Spring, I may be able to turn what I’ve learned at COP24 into action, and answer his call before I graduate in May.


August Granath is a fifth year Economics and International Affairs major. He has worked throughout the last year as a research associate and coordinator of the State Carbon Pricing Network with Climate XChange, a research non-profit in Boston.


For more Student Climate Delegation blogs, visit the Global Resilience Institute’s website.

Published On: January 29, 2019 |
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