“Loss and Damage” to address climate justice in Latin America

 By Student Delegate Leslie Terrones

Loss and damage is now a well-known concept that has been at the center of the political fight for climate justice of the Global South since the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Glossary of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, we can understand loss and damage, broadly, as harms from (observed) impacts and (projected) risks associated with future climate change.

Loss and damage dates back to a 1991 submission by Vanuatu on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) calling for an insurance pool funded by developed countries to help cover the financial burden, to compensate, and/or rehabilitate the loss and damage suffered by the most vulnerable small island and low-lying developing countries. Despite being an old concept, however, it took more than two decades and increasingly robust evidence about climate change impacts and risks, to be recognized institutionally by the UNFCCC.

At COP19, in 2013, countries adopted the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage as part of the UNFCCC, which created an institutionalized policy space to address the adverse consequences of climate change. At COP21, in 2015, the Paris Agreement generated Article 8, which provided the loss and damage mechanism with a permanent legal basis. Furthermore, at COP 25 the Santiago Network was launched as an instrument that would allow countries to catalyze technical assistance to address loss and damage in the context of the Warsaw Mechanism.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to be enough. A recent panel organized by the NGO La Ruta del Clima on November 8th at COP26, called Human Rights and Climate Impacts in Latin America, gathered multiple youth representatives to discuss the organization’s last publication Loss and Damage at COP26: A Central American Perspective, published this last October. The publication analyzes whether or not loss and damage mechanisms were addressed in NDCs submitted by Caribbean governments and the implications of that inclusion or exclusion, as well as the key political demands from the Central-American perspective.

According to Adrian Martínez, the Executive Director of La Ruta del Clima, Article 51 of the Paris Agreement does not address liability and compensation regarding loss and damages and the Warsaw Mechanism has–so far–no funding. “The climate regime doesn’t address the needs of the people, especially the most vulnerable communities. The consequences of this lack of implementation could derive in human rights violations,” he added.

For Liliana Ávila, from the Asociación Interamericana para la defensa del Medioambiente (AIDA), this is a matter of justice. Ávila says, “the impacts of climate change go beyond adaptation and mitigation. We’re also losing a lot of human cultural achievements”. Considering this, she stated that loss and damage needs to be a real pillar within the climate change international system and should be addressed as a human rights issue. Furthermore, she highlighted the importance of adopting a new stream of finance which should set up defined and concrete goals and include accountability and cooperation mechanisms.

Speakers like Ingrid Hausinger and Felipe Fontecilla agree about the urgency to adopt a human rights approach when tackling loss and damage. They also had a united message in saying that the Warsaw Mechanism and the Santiago Network need to be implemented. But to achieve this, the voices of the most vulnerable should be heard and minorities like indigenous people and the LGBTQ+ community must be considered as a matter of course.

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