As this week’s UN climate science report lays bare the staggering economic costs and losses already incurred by climate change, an inevitable question arises: who should pay?
In the context of the UN climate negotiations, “loss and damage” refers to the costs that countries incur as a result of climate-related impacts and disasters – costs that disproportionately hit the world’s poor and vulnerable. which have contributed the least to global warming.
Based on more than 34,000 references from the latest scientific articles, the report published Monday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that the economic sectors, agriculture and from fishing to tourism, were already damaged.
Extreme heat fueled crop losses. Rising seas have turbocharged cyclones that have flattened homes and infrastructure, reducing economic growth.
And as bills rise, poorer countries find themselves with even less to spend on health, education and infrastructure, compounding the suffering.
“It’s a never-ending situation,” said Anjal Prakash, IPCC lead author and research director at the Indian School of Business.
The report is likely to intensify a years-long political fight over financing climate-related losses, ahead of the upcoming UN climate summit, COP27, in Egypt in November.
For years, vulnerable countries have sought funding to help with these costs. So far, that hasn’t happened, and rich countries have resisted moves that could legally assign liability or lead to compensation.
The reference to “loss and damage” in the 2015 Paris Agreement came with the caveat that it “does not imply or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.
Last November, at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, poor countries called for the creation of a special “loss and damage” fund, but the United States and other rich countries resisted. Delegates agreed to establish a UN body to help countries deal with loss and damage, and to continue discussions to make “arrangements” for funding.
But we don’t know where the money would come from.
“We can’t just create more talk shops when people are dying,” said Harjeet Singh, senior adviser at the Climate Action Network. He said COP27 should establish the funding mechanism that developing countries, including China, requested at COP26.
Singh and other activists said the IPCC report – which has been endorsed by nearly 200 governments – could intensify pressure on the world’s most powerful nations.
“It will help us to say that the science is clear, the impacts are clearer now. So you are responsible for this and you have to pay for it,” said Nushrat Chowdhury, political adviser at the NGO Christian Aid.
The report’s discussion of climate loss is bolstered by recent improvements in ‘attribution science’, which allows scientists to confirm when climate change caused or worsened a specific extreme weather event.
Yet quantifying the resulting losses remains controversial. For example, can climate-related losses resulting from a weather event be separated from losses caused by poor disaster planning? Can costs be counted for losses outside our economic systems, such as when nature is degraded or a community burial site is destroyed?
“We are still debating this in the scientific community,” said another IPCC lead author, Emily Boyd, a professor at Sweden’s Lund University.
As the costs of climate disasters mount and UN negotiations remain stalled, some are considering other options.
“Liability and compensation have other avenues to follow, which are the courts,” said Saleemul Huq, an adviser to the 55-country Climate Vulnerable Forum group.
Sophie Marjanac, a lawyer at environmental law firm ClientEarth, said the IPCC report will “generally support litigation” to tackle climate change.
However, the legal route comes up against other obstacles.
Last year, a federal appeals court rejected New York City’s attempt to use state law to hold five oil companies accountable for helping offset damage from global warming. The court said regulation of greenhouse gas emissions should instead be governed by federal law and international treaties.
“The challenges in climate change litigation are about law, not science,” Marjanac said. “The science has been clear, very clear for years.”
In an age of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us tell the story well.
Climate change, environment