Tuesday, December 11, 2012
The eighteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was uneventful; nations primarily reiterated a general intent to negotiate post-Kyoto emissions reduction obligations at the next meeting. There was no major breakthrough in the earlier positions of major emitters; they merely agree to pursue new directions in future negotiations.
Nevertheless, one important development occured at the Doha meeting. The COP adopted a report, "Approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change to enhance adaptive capacity." [The Loss and Damage Report or the Report].
To date both UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol have focused on mitigation and adaptation. With respect to both actions, developed countries undertook financial responsibility to help particularly vulnerable developing countries. Since the COP meeting in Copenhagen, the focus on providing accelerated funding for both efforts increased; a new Green Climate Fund was established; the focus on adaptation funding increased. The Loss and Damage Report goes a step further and adds a new dimension to ongoing climate treaty negotiations. It provides a framework for discussing and negotiating loss and damage suffered by developing countries because of climate change, including non-economic loss. Some such loss or risks identified include climate-induced shifts in migration patterns, displacement of people, and other special vulnerabilities. The Report sets an agenda for the secretariat to organize an expert meeting and prepare a technical paper on the non-economic losses.
This is an important development, because it is an implicit acknowledgment that climate change will have serious non-economic consequences, particularly on special populations. It also begs a question that has been pushed to the background in the midst of concerns about the economic implications of climate change—how to value the invaluable? Loss of home, for instance. Of course, the Report recognizes this crucial question, but disappointingly subjects any progress on the issue to the availability of financing. Nevertheless, it is an important step in the correct direction, one that essentially should lead us to think—how exactly should we value climate mitigation efforts?