KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Developing countries in Asia are embarking on projects to assess and address future loss and damage from climate change, with the aim of convincing rich nations to compensate them and to reduce emissions, speakers at a regional climate forum said Wednesday.
Such work could lead to the negotiation of some kind of capped liability for damages that have already and are expected to occur – potentially a more attractive option for rich countries than a continuing threat of open-ended liability, said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, which helped set up the Asia Pacific Forum on Loss and Damage.
“We wish that we can have some sort of an agreed mechanism for compensation,” Huq told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at the three-day Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Malaysia.
For rich countries, “my argument (to them) is that you’re better off having a deal with us – developing countries – where we limit your liability. If you don’t do that, you can’t negotiate anymore after harm has been done,” he said.
Wealthy nations agreed last December to an international mechanism to deal with the impacts of climate-related loss and damage at U.N. climate negotiations in Warsaw, though many – including the United States and the European Union – had opposed such a move.
Most rich nations have balked at any suggestion of paying compensation based on their historical responsibility for global warming, instead preferring to discuss alternative measures to cut losses, such as potentially paying for insurance policies for at-risk poor countries.
The agreement in Warsaw, however, did recognize that poor countries will suffer disproportionately from climate change despite doing little to cause it. And as losses mount and scientific evidence linking climate disruption to human behavior gets stronger, the issue has been increasingly hard to ignore.
A World Bank report last year said economic losses from natural disasters have risen from an annual average of around $50 billion in the 1980s to just under $200 billion each year in the last decade.
One aim of trying to assess current and potential loss and damage is “to spur prevention” of those losses, Huq said.
Many scientists believe efforts to hold global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius – the current aim of U.N. climate negotiations – are failing and the world is more likely headed for an increase of at least 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
That would mean loss and damage “of unimaginable proportions”, Huq said.
Not all losses will be monetary or capable of being calculated, and no amount of money can compensate loss of culture or of homelands – a prospect some low-lying Pacific island nations now face as sea levels rise, he added.
“The solution is to avoid the damage in the first place … not to let it happen and then pay for the damage that has been done,” he said.
The decision in Warsaw last December acknowledges that some loss and damage from climate change will be unavoidable, despite best efforts to adapt to the changing conditions.
The agreement provides a three-year window until the end of 2016 before any decision is made about how the new mechanism will work, time researchers and climate activists plan to use to amass research.
“Then it’s up to the negotiators from different countries to decide what to do,” Huq said.
Meanwhile, scientists around the world are increasingly able to link the harm being done by humans to natural disasters and weather extremes.
Earlier this week, news reports cited researchers saying savage heat waves that struck Australia last year were almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gases released by human activity.
“That kind of attribution will become more and more frequent,” Huq predicted.
Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation with ActionAid, said national governments should have strong social protection systems that kick in when loss and damage occur.
Money from a loss and damage mechanism could play a role, but “from a very grassroots perspective, it doesn’t matter where the money is coming from” for such protective systems, he said.
ActionAid, together with two other organizations, recently started project to assess and address loss and damage in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam.
Such assessments could lead to “more informed decision-making at the local level, particularly with respect to planning and infrastructure,” said Joy Jacqueline Pereira, principal research fellow at Malaysia’s Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative.
Reporting By Thin Lei Win, Editing by Laurie Goering