Addressing the impacts of climate change through an effective Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage

As there are limits to how much countries can adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change, the international climate negotiations incorporate a Loss and Damage pillar supported by the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which is designed to help countries – especially the most vulnerable – to deal with the harm caused by climate change. Rebecca Byrnes and Swenja Surminski outline progress of actions taken under the WIM to date and how to enhance its effectiveness, as the COP25 climate conference gears up to reviewing the mechanism when negotiators meet in December. (Download their full submission here.)

The impacts of climate change are already being felt, with health, livelihoods, cultural sites and ways of life being lost or damaged by climate events. And these impacts are expected to grow: the rise in global temperature as a result of climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and unpredictability of events including heatwaves, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones, and is causing sea level rise and ice sheet retreat. While much can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to their impacts where possible, not all climate events can be prevented or prepared for.

At the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Santiago in December 2019, climate negotiators will be reviewing the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage – the international mechanism designed to help countries deal with the impacts of climate change when they occur. The Grantham Research Institute has prepared a submission to inform this review, which provides an opportunity to stake stock of progress and find common ground on which to advance work to protect particularly vulnerable populations.

The ‘Loss and Damage’ pillar of the UNFCCC negotiations arose from the recognition that there are limits to how much it is possible to adapt to the impacts of climate change: when these limits are reached, losses and damages occur, because the actions needed to adapt are unaffordable, not physically or technically possible, socially difficult or simply not sufficient to prevent some harm to humans, the environment and assets. The further global temperatures rise, the more likely it is that adaptation limits will be reached.

Several elements are needed to help vulnerable countries address climate losses and damages

The WIM has a mandate to facilitate access to finance, enhance knowledge on Loss and Damage, and improve coordination. These are all crucial elements for meeting the needs of vulnerable countries.

1. Finance

Finance is vital to ensuring that countries are able to recover quickly following extreme weather events, can implement recovery programmes and build future resilience to slow-onset processes like sea level rise. Finance is needed for social safety net programmes such as social protection schemes and longer-term transformational funds to address the impacts of slow-onset events. Post-disaster relief requires rapid-response finance. And finance is needed to improve data collection and projections of future losses and damages, and, where possible, to assist in reducing non-economic losses and damages, such as through support for programmes aimed at preserving cultural artefacts and history.

2. Data

Many poorer countries and communities would benefit significantly from improved collection, analysis and awareness of weather and climate information, and of data on localised impacts. This data needs to be user-friendly and directed at relevant decision-makers in national and local governments. It is needed to assist with anticipating where future climate impacts are likely to hit, where there are possibilities to reduce losses and damages through adaptation, where to set aside funds or purchase risk transfer products, and, as a last resort, when to plan the relocation of citizens and communities.

3. Coordination and oversight

There are significant overlaps and synergies between international, regional and national-level agencies responsible for losses and damages, climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction and migration. Coordination and oversight are needed to minimise duplication of efforts, and to encourage pooling of resources and cooperation among agencies to ensure that opportunities for preventing and addressing losses and damages are maximised.

Progress in some areas but gaps need to be filled in tailoring information and facilitating finance

The WIM’s Executive Committee has made some progress on its mandate. It has established several technical expert groups and online materials designed to grow knowledge in the areas of risk transfer tools such as insurance, displacement, slow-onset events, non-economic losses and comprehensive risk management approaches. For example, the Fiji Clearinghouse for Risk Transfer is a repository of information and includes an online platform where countries can seek advice on risk transfer options. The taskforce on displacement has been successful in convening international organisations, including the International Organization for Migration and the Platform on Disaster Displacement, alongside experts, to generate knowledge and recommendations on addressing displacement of people due to losses and damages.

However, there has been little focus on ensuring context-specific and tailored information is available to individual countries. Also, there is a major gap in activities to facilitate the provision of finance to particularly vulnerable countries. This includes both directing finance from developed countries and donors to where it is needed and ensuring information on finance is not limited to risk transfer mechanisms but includes wider options such as direct transfers, risk pooling, resilience bonds and safety nets such as social protection.

Five recommendations for strengthening the WIM

Following the WIM review at COP25, countries will have the opportunity to negotiate and agree ways to enhance the Mechanism’s effectiveness. From our analysis, we recommend in our submission to the review that countries should empower the WIM to:

  1. Establish a Loss and Damage finance facility, with improved access to that finance for poor and vulnerable communities, to direct rapid response finance to where it is needed, facilitate increased availability of finance aimed at slow-onset events like desertification and sea level rise, and provide finance to support capacity-building and knowledge-sharing.
  2. Act as an international overseer by monitoring and reporting on progress, including through the UNFCCC five-yearly global stocktake of progress on the Paris Agreement, by producing independent reports on gaps in Loss and Damage action and support, by gathering information on progress in scaling up Loss and Damage finance, accessibility and use of funds, and highlighting where inadequate climate change mitigation or adaptation efforts are resulting in losses and damages that are greater than they should be.
  3. Scale up existing knowledge development efforts under the WIM and support improved collection, accessibility and dissemination of climate risk and disaster information.
  4. Provide concrete technical and financial advice to governments through a mechanism similar to the Climate Technology Centre and Network but dedicated to Loss and Damage.
  5. Act as an international convenor to bring together relevant international bodies and regional country groups, to break down silo working and facilitate cooperation, including through long-term risk-pooling initiatives and international funds.

A question of fairness

The WIM has the potential to play a major role in facilitating finance and support, coordination and oversight at the international level to protect vulnerable communities in developing countries. However, international agreement is needed to enable the WIM to move beyond being a mere information platform to a mechanism that facilitates urgent, far-reaching and holistic action on Loss and Damage. This is a matter of fairness for vulnerable countries, communities and households.

Download the report: ‘Addressing the impacts of climate change through an effective Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage: Submission to the second review of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage under the UNFCCC’ by Rebecca Byrnes and Swenja Surminski. The evidence provided in the submission draws from the authors’ experience of working within the UNFCCC climate negotiations and from their academic work.