Climate change loss and damage: The verdict from COP23 in Bonn

by 17th Nov 2017
CARE supporters at a march at the COP23 meeting in Bonn CARE supporters at a march at the COP23 meeting in Bonn

Under the Fiji presidency of COP23 in Bonn, Germany, we have heard many stories of the devastation faced by the Pacific islands during Typhoon Haiyan, Cyclone Winston and Cyclone Pam. We have heard how Fiji is already having to relocate entire villages permanently because of sea level rise and coastal erosion, and that water sources are becoming contaminated.

Small island states are the ‘canaries’ of climate change. Canary birds were once taken into coal mine shafts to test the levels of poisonous gas – if they died then miners knew the conditions were lethal. People of nations vulnerable to climate change are now those canaries.

The Paris Agreement has enshrined three pillars for action to combat climate change:

  1. Mitigation: To reduce emissions to keep global temperatures well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, but with the ambition to limit it to 1.5oC
  2. Adaptation: To adapt to the impacts these rising temperatures will trigger – more severe and more frequent droughts, flooding, cyclones and hurricane
  3. Loss and Damage: The impacts that the world cannot mitigate or adapt to.

Loss and Damage

After each cyclone, you can wait for humanitarian response to help you rebuild your home, you can build your home with stronger materials and in safer ways, but as the cyclones strengthen and become more frequent and less predictable, major changes must be made for survival. People have to be relocated, livelihoods are changed completely and massive reconstruction needed. For the world’s most vulnerable countries, this is an enormous financial burden on their GDPs and is particularly unjust, as other nations have caused the climate change impacts they are facing.

The outcome at COP23

The outcome from the Loss and Damage negotiations at COP23 is disappointing. The Warsaw International Mechanism’s (WIM) executive committee, tasked with taking forward the Loss and Damage outcomes from Paris, must deliver a technical paper on financial instruments for loss and damage, as part of its five-year work plan. However, there is no proposal for this paper to consider additional and innovative financial sources; it will only look at available finance. With June 2019 as the deadline for finalisation of this technical paper and no assurances on a process for raising finance for Loss and Damage, urgency and commitment does not match the severity of climate-driven disasters on the scale that is needed to address loss and damage.

Time to take a share of the responsibilities

Insurance-based and risk-pooling initiatives, such as the InsuResilience Global Partnership and Africa Risk Capacity, have been praised repeatedly at COP23. While these are in the WIM’s mandate to support, they need to be embedded into an integrated risk management approach, and alone are far from sufficient for covering the loss and damage needs of most vulnerable countries. The level of political backing and energy behind these initiatives must be matched with similar efforts on options which better reflect the underlying responsibilities for causing the problem of climate change.


Sheri Lim

I am an environmental scientist with a background in international development, specialising in climate change adaptation, natural resource management, disaster risk reduction and resilience. I joined CARE in June 2015, and my role involves advising CARE’s country offices on design and implementation of climate change and resilience projects, conducting training and overseeing research. Having a global remit within CARE has led me to work with inspiring colleagues in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Niger, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Syria, Nepal, Tanzania, Mozambique, and many other countries, to help the most vulnerable people facing the acute impacts of climate change.

I have lived in South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Malaysia and Nigeria, and worked with various agencies and consultancies on projects ranging from national climate change adaptation plans and evaluating national climate change challenge funds in Nigeria, to working with communities to set up natural resource management committees and Farmer Field Schools in Zambia, to developing university level climate change policy courses and international climate change conferences for government departments in the Caribbean.


Twitter: @climate_sheri