Small islands must take the helm on ‘loss and damage’

Small island states were excluded from the UN’s ‘loss and damage’ committee; it’s time they are invited to the table

Pic: Didier Baertschiger/Flickr

Pic: Didier Baertschiger/Flickr

By Olivia Santiago

Small island states are among the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

They face the collapse of their coastal ecosystems and economies due to rising sea level and extreme weather events, warned a UN science report released in March. Another report by the UN Environment Program shows their growing vulnerability will cost trillions of dollars per year.

This is why, at the UN climate talks, the small island states, including countries like the Seychelles, Marshall Islands and Kiribati, are calling for a loss and damage mechanism that is separate from adaptation.

Loss and damage occurs when adaptation and mitigation fails, for example, the relocation of an entire country due to encroaching sea levels.

But the largest-emitting countries are reluctant to put loss and damage on a separate platform from adaptation and mitigation, because the money to finance the mechanism would have to be drawn from a separate source different from the US$ 100billion Green Climate Fund.


Since 1991, these “drowning” countries have been pushing for loss and damage to be a separate, distinct category under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

They finally made headway at last year’s climate change conference in Poland, where the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established under the Cancun Adaptation framework.

But while the decision marked progress for loss and damage under the UNFCCC, regional areas are misrepresented.

Despite being the strongest champions for loss and damage, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is not represented on the loss and damage Interim Executive Committee, which is developing a two-year work plan for how the mechanism will be implemented by Lima.

“AOSIS was the architect of the committee they found themselves not on,” says Seychelles ambassador Ronald Jumeau, chief spokesperson for the small island states.

Too late

In Lima, all recommendations to the mechanism will be assessed by the Interim Committee, which will then establish a permanent loss and damage committee in 2016 as part of the agreement made in Warsaw.

The valuable inputs and opinions of AOSIS need to play a formal role in the decisions made by the Interim Committee in Lima, which will then anchor the loss and damage framework leading up to Paris.

The small island states must have a permanent position on the final committee when it is created in Lima. Parties have agreed to revisit the mechanism and its structure at COP22 in 2016, but by then, it may be too late.

The demand for an inclusive mechanism that is separate from adaptation will increase as the impacts of sea level rise cause irreversible damage. The world’s smallest 52 island states bear the disproportionate burden of the negative side effects of climate change, despite contributing less than 1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Small islands face complete extinction. It is just and fair that countries who face permanent loss and damage most immediately should have a place at the table.

Olivia Santiago is a researcher in Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab

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