US seeks to remove ‘losses and damages’ from scientific report on climate impacts

The US has repeatedly blocked demands from developing countries to provide specific funding to recover from the losses caused by climate disasters

A family finds rescue on the roof of a submerged house in the city of Sirajganj, Bangladesh (Photo: Moniruzzaman Sazal / Climate Visuals Countdown)

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The US is pushing back against the use of the term “losses and damages” in a leading scientific report on climate impacts, sources close to the negotiations have told Climate Home News.

The 18-chapter report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be published on Monday, focuses on the impacts of global heating on human and natural systems and the options and limits to adapt to them.

It grapples with the “losses and damages” that might result when emissions cuts and adaptation measures are not enough to prevent the destruction of lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and biodiversity.

Over the past 10 days, government representatives have been discussing the findings of a “summary for policymakers” line by line to approve it.

A draft, obtained by Climate Home News, states that human-induced climate change has already “caused widespread losses and damages to nature and people, despite adaptation efforts”.

But, during a virtual meeting of national delegates this week, the US pushed for the term “losses and damages” to be replaced with the word “impacts”.

One source told Climate Home the US had been “playing hard ball” on the issue. “The US is pushing very hard to obscure the underlying science and keep it out of the summary for policymakers,” which it is “trying to shape to its interest”.

Discussions on ‘loss and damage’ have been extremely contentious at the UN climate talks.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to help victims of climate change recover after extreme weather events or slower-onset climate disasters such as sea-level rise.

But wealthy nations have fiercely resisted providing specific finance for these losses and refused to accept any liability or compensation claims for their historic responsibility in causing climate change.

The issue rose to the top of the political agenda at the Cop26 climate talks. Developing countries put forward a proposal for a funding facility dedicated to loss and damage, which was blocked by the US and the EU.

Instead, they had to settle for “a dialogue” to discuss funding arrangement.  The issue is expected to top the political agenda at this year’s Cop27 talks in Egypt.

To disentangle scientific findings from the political discourse, scientists referred to “losses and damages” in the upcoming report.

“What is important to recognise about the work that we do in the IPCC is we don’t deal with loss and damage in the [UN Climate Change] sense,” Debra Roberts, co-chair of the working group producing the report, told journalists earlier this month. “What we deal with are the losses and damages that emerge from the physical changes in the climate.”

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The draft summary states that projected losses and damages will escalate with every increment of warming and “become increasingly difficult to avoid”.  Near-term action to limit global emissions to 1.5C would substantially reduce but not eliminate all losses and damages.

Nushrat Chowdhury, a climate justice advisor for Christian Aid, said the language of the report should not be watered down by rich governments.

“We made real progress at the Cop26 climate summit, getting loss and damage on the global agenda. However it seems rich nations are trying to undermine this progress by attacking the reality of loss and damage through the IPCC process, led by countries which claim to be climate leaders, like the US,” she said.

She added: “It is shameful to see them boasting about their climate achievements in public yet behind closed doors they are doing everything they can to prevent support reaching the most vulnerable.”

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