Cyclone Ockhi: Key takeaways for India from Bonn climate summit to manage disasters

The need of the hour is to take the 'loss and damage' issue beyond political rhetoric.

 |  5-minute read |   07-12-2017
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Even as climate envoys headed to Bonn for the COP23 climate change summit, held from November 6-17, many places across the world continued to reel under extreme weather conditions.

With Fiji - which is facing grave climate risks - having the chairmanship of the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference, it was hoped that a way forward could be found to implement the Paris Agreement and the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the signatories, especially on climate finance and dealing with loss and damage.

Yet the most that the COP23 yielded amid shifting of responsibility for climate finance was a text on "loss and damage" that could help with future negotiations on this “third pillar” of the Paris Climate Accord.

With the frequency and intensity of natural disasters on the rise, the “loss and damage” angle to climate action gains importance. The climate risk insurance model becomes ineffective with damages abound. “Loss” refers to things that are lost forever and cannot be revived, such as human lives or species loss. “Damage”, on the other hand, refers to things that are damaged, but can be repaired or restored, such as infrastructure.

While November saw the eastern coast of South India and Southeast Asia battered by monsoon and typhoon, Cyclone Ockhi wreaked havoc on Indian coastlines this month. Hence, dealing with loss and damage becomes exponentially significant to climate action.

The floods in Assam early this year resulted in the loss of worrying numbers of endangered species such as rhinos and tigers. Cyclone Vardah last year uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees delivering a devastating blow to the forest-carbon sink model. The combination of unplanned urban sprawls and poor civic infrastructure across urban India with intensified monsoon and frequent cyclones  cause flooding and expensive damages. Critical infrastructure and important cities are all at the mercy of the sea and bad weather. Our financial capital Mumbai is a main case in point where high tides, big waves and heavy rains regularly slow down the city and the national finances.

While the concept of “loss and damage” has been around in climate action literature since the beginning, the 2013 Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) as well as Article 8 of the Paris Climate Treaty in 2015, put the issue on equal footing with mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance.

The main takeaway for India and other developing nations at the frontline of climate risk is to work together to ensure funding for loss and damage as well as other elements of climate action and justice.

While natural disasters do bring the issue to the fore, slow-onset events such as desertification, rise in sea level and glacier melting contribute to loss and damage, and need finance for mitigation and adaptation.

Desertification and soil erosion are as devastating as flooding. The link between soil fertility and poverty alleviation is a strong and direct one that needs to be highlighted beyond just World Soil Day (December 5).

The bill for a low-carbon growth model as outlined by India’s INDCs will cost $2 trillion. The budget for all nations adds up, but developed nations are unwilling to generate new funds and either keep moving around international aid, green climate funds, adaptation finance, etc, or focus exclusively on insurance which generates income for insurance corporations based in the developed Global North bloc.

With the developed nations insisting on replacing compensation with a toothless phrase such as "action and support", gaining adequate finance becomes problematic. The like- minded developing countries' (LMDCs) group with the voice of the Asian powerhouses, India and China, need to keep up the pressure to generate adequate finance for all climate action. This is key for climate justice.

Loss and damage as a result of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reinforces the poverty trap. A vicious circle that makes sustainable development a distant dream and avoiding dependence on “cheap” fossil fuels the most obvious choice in the developing world.

This high-carbon growth in turn and the demographic quotients fuels emissions and climate change. Impact of climate-induced loss and damage is far-reaching. As Action Aid’s global lead on climate change, Harjeet Singh, puts it, economic damages lead to migration and cultural loss.

The urban migration of farm labourers from flood- and fire-devastated rural areas, in turn, increases their risk of getting caught in trafficking and modern-day slavery traps. While the agricultural lifestyle is lost, migrant damages the psyche as well as the pockets.

Julie-Anne Richards, who authored the "Carbon-Levy Project" for Oxfam, calls for robust funding mechanisms - such as climate damage taxing of the fossil fuel industry, taxing of maritime and air traffic, airline levies as well as taxes of jobless circuitous financial transactions - in the resource-gobbling, rich and developed nations.

It is also important to actually ensure the utilisation of climate funding. As witnessed in the case of Delhi’s Environment Cess, even with funds available, preventive action was not taken.

Ahead of the submissions for the Suva Expert Dialogue and the technical paper on loss and damage in May 2018, the need of the hour is to take the loss and damage issue beyond political rhetoric with actionable and financed plans to escape the “loss-and-damage” trap.

Also read: 5 climate change challenges India needs to wake up to



Raakhee Suryaprakash Raakhee Suryaprakash @10sunshinegal

Chennai-based writer and South Asia fellow with Climate Tracker.

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