Brief history of Loss & Damage in UNFCCC discussions

From the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have focused on how to avoid dangerous climate change impacts (Article 2), focusing in early days primarily on mitigation. By the mid-2000s, and certainly with the publication of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, it became clear that the level of overall ambition on emissions reduction was too low to fully prevent climate change. Scientists and policy makers concurred that some impacts of climate change may already be manifest, and adaptation was now a necessary complement to mitigation (Ott et al. 2008). UNFCCC discussions increasingly included adaptation and the negative impacts of climate change on human society.  This led to discussions on the need for resources and activities that would help countries to adapt to and manage loss and damage. The implementation of risk management and risk transfer measures was discussed as part of adaptation.

In 2007, the Bali Action Plan called for [r]isk management and risk reduction strategies…and for consideration of…strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” (UNFCCC 2007). Throughout the international climate change negotiations following the Bali Action Plan (UNFCCC 2007), risk management featured prominently in discussions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) (UNFCCC 2008, 2009, 2010). COP14 featured an expert workshop on risk management, which allowed Parties to review a number of proposals on ways to approach adverse impacts of climate change.

At the fifteenth conference of parties (COP15) in Copenhagen in 2009, a draft negotiating text included several key references to risk reduction and specific tools like insurance. Loss and damage was addressed in paragraph 8 of the AWG-LCA´s text related to adaptation. At COP 16 in Cancun, the Cancun Agreements, ((UNFCCC 2010), recognized the need to strengthen international cooperation and expertise in order to understand and reduce loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events and slow onset events. A footnote to this paragraph lists the following impacts: sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinization, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. In response, it was decided to establish a work programme in order to consider, including through workshops and expert meetings, as appropriate, 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.

At COP17 in Durban, negotiators reached consensus on elements of the SBI Work Program on Loss and Damage from COP17 to COP18 (2012). Decision -/CP.17 (UNFCCC 2011) requests the SBI to continue the implementation of the work programme on 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 and to make recommendations on loss and damage to the Conference of the Parties for its consideration at its eighteenth session. It calls on stakeholders and experts to share the outcomes, lessons learned, and good practice related to the implementation of existing risk assessment and risk management approaches. The Decision also [a]ppreciates the need to explore a range of possible approaches and potential mechanisms, including an international mechanism, to address loss and damage, with a view to making recommendations on loss and damage to the Conference of the Parties for its consideration at its eighteenth session. (UNFCCC 2011)