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Typhoon Haiyan and UN climate talks – seeking justice over loss and damage

BRUSSELS, 12 November 2013 (IRIN) - The shadow of Typhoon Haiyan - which has affected close to 10 million people in the Philippines - looms over the UN climate talks in Warsaw. The Philippines’ climate negotiator, Naderev Sano, proceeded with a hunger strike he announced at the start of the conference, which he says he will continue until meaningful action is taken to address climate change.

Scientists are still uncertain whether atmosphere-warming greenhouse gas emissions have caused a detectable change in cyclonic activity, but the typhoon is a “stark reminder that there can’t be any further delay in intensifying our efforts to tackle mounting loss and damage”, said Harjeet Singh, ActionAid's international coordinator for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation.

ActionAid, Care International the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a joint paper presenting a framework for an international mechanism to address the loss and damage experienced by developing countries as a result of climate change. 

The paper says evidence is mounting that efforts to adapt to climatic shocks are failing, and that countries need urgent technical and financial support.

A loss and damage mechanism

The NGOs say global efforts to deal with climate-related loss and damage should include enhancing knowledge and coordination on adaptation efforts, improved disaster risk reduction and management, and more cooperation on technical solutions.

They say the mechanism should be comprised of two components: a Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), which would be a work programme on loss and damage, and a Standing Body on Loss and Damage, which would have an oversight role.

An SBI work programme on loss and damage already exists, and the NGOs said it “should continue to carry out important technical work to further develop knowledge and understanding on loss and damage and slow onset events”.

The Standing Body, meanwhile, could report directly to all the countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties. It would have global oversight, coordinate actions and set up linkages with other bodies for technical support.

“For example, slow-onset impacts on food production and fisheries, with related impacts on food security, will require much closer collaboration and cooperation in the future with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme, as well as the global meteorological community,” said the paper.

"The international mechanism [on loss and damage] must be established here at Warsaw with agreement on key functions, while modalities can be detailed in 2014"
Singh said, “All countries [in the 2012 UN climate talks in Doha] had decided that ‘institutional arrangements such as an international mechanism’ would be established at the climate conference in Warsaw.”

He explained: “An international mechanism on loss and damage is not just about developing financial measures to address climate change impacts that cannot be adapted to. It is also about generating knowledge and finding new ways to deal with non-economic losses such as loss of biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, human mobility, cultural heritage, ancestral burial sites, etc.… The international mechanism must be established here at Warsaw with agreement on key functions, while modalities can be detailed in 2014 so that the mechanism can be operationalized by 2015".

Global injustice

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s climate change advocacy coordinator, said: “People living in poverty have done the least to cause climate change. Yet, in the countries where CARE works - in Pakistan, India, Madagascar, Haiti, Peru, Bangladesh, Niger and Nepal, for example - the poorest people are now bearing the brunt of climate change impacts. Failure to reduce global emissions is threatening sustainable economic development and undermining people’s efforts to lift themselves out of poverty. Climate change is therefore an extreme global injustice.”

In 2012, the Philippines was battered by another enormous storm, Typhoon Bopha, which placed it among the among the top three countries to be most affected by a climatic shock that year, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2014, released in Warsaw today.

“In terms of extreme weather events, the year 2012 will most likely be remembered for the occurrence of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which made headlines for several days on end in the media around the world, [and] amounting to damages of over US$68 billion,” wrote Sönke Kreft and David Eckstein, the authors of the report on the Index, which is produced by Germanwatch, a North-South watchdog initiative.

But the impact of the storm on Haiti was underreported. “The hurricane wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, with Haiti being hit hardest, thus accounting for the country's rise to the top of this year's Climate Risk Index. In the Caribbean country, [which] is still recovering from the devastating earthquake in 2010, the heavy rainfalls fuelled by Sandy not only left 200,000 people homeless, but also destroyed much of the country's crops, which had already been affected by Hurricane Isaac in late August 2012.”

Meteorologist Jeff Masters wrote that Typhoon Haiyan was the third deadliest typhoon in the history of the Philippines, and Tom Mitchell, the head of climate change and environment at the Overseas Development Institute, wrote that Haiyan “may well turn out to be the most expensive in the history of the Philippines, in terms of both human lives and economic damage”.

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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Disaster Risk Reduction, Economy, Environment, Governance, Human Rights, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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