PARIS — Having a mechanism to address the losses and damage caused by climate change included in the draft of a U.N. deal to tackle global warming is a victory for vulnerable island states, and they will fight to keep it in, said Tuvalu’s prime minister.
“Loss and damage” remains a contentious issue in the final stretch of negotiations on a Paris agreement due at the end of this week, officials and observers say.
“There is still a thick jungle in front of us,” said Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who describes himself as a fisherman.
But he was encouraged by “inroads” in the latest version of the agreement, released on Wednesday. He pointed to options for a tougher global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, a strong regime to help countries adapt to extreme weather and rising seas, and “of course, loss and damage”.
“Nobody is going to take them out now without a war,” he said.
The draft proposes anchoring an existing international loss and damage mechanism, established in Warsaw in 2013, in the binding section of the deal, and setting up a “climate change displacement coordination facility” to support people forced from their homes by persistent flooding or creeping deserts.
It would also launch a process to find ways to address irreversible and permanent damage resulting from human-induced climate change.
However, observers say the United States and European Union are pushing to add language that rules out both establishing liability for losses and potentially paying compensation. As historically big contributors to climate-changing emissions, they fear they could end up with a soaring bill.
The ministers in charge of negotiations on the issue said there was “no clear landing ground” for compromise yet “as liability and compensation are red lines” for some countries, although they did not specify which ones.
Julie-Anne Richards, an expert with the Climate Justice Programme, said this amounted to “creating a bogeyman that doesn’t exist”.
The G77 group of 134 developing countries had already agreed earlier in the year to avoid any reference to compensation, in a nod to the concerns of wealthy governments, she noted.
Tuvalu’s prime minister has asserted that principles for building legal cases relating to loss and damage already exist in international law, such as the “polluter pays” principle.
Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator for aid agency CARE International, agreed such principles could be referred to if required in the future.
“So why are we fighting so much about (liability and compensation) instead of engaging in a more constructive discussion on how best to include loss and damage (in a deal)?” he asked.
There have been rumours that developed countries, including the United States and the European Union, may be seeking concessions on loss and damage from vulnerable states in return for recognising a lower 1.5 degree warming goal in the deal.
The Tuvalu prime minister said, however, that the two issues were not connected.
Yeb Saño, a former Philippines climate change commissioner who was pivotal in lobbying for the Warsaw loss and damage mechanism after parts of his country were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, said the issue was being treated in a “token way” in Paris.
“Governments refuse to accept that loss and damage must include compensation for those who are already suffering and for those already incurring losses and damage from the impacts of climate change. It is absolutely a weak appreciation of the concept,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as he participated in a demonstration calling for climate justice.
The ex-negotiator, who completed a 1,500-kilometre pilgrimage through Italy, Switzerland and France as part of an interfaith campaign for climate action, said the sit-in and short march at the Paris summit on Wednesday pointed to “a global frustration with the way the climate crisis is being dealt with”.
“Personally I have no illusion that doing this will change the minds of governments, but this is a clear demonstration that we stand together,” said Saño, whose emotional interventions at the 2013 talks grabbed international headlines.
“Civil society will not stop until we see climate justice,” he added.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)