There are three ways in which human induced climate change affects us and hence three ways to tackle the problem. The first one is the cause of the problem which is due to the emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, and hence the first solution is to stop (or at least reduce) those emissions.
This is known in the climate change jargon as “mitigation.”
The second aspect of the problem is to have to cope with the inevitable impacts that will occur due to our collective failure to reduce emissions sufficiently to prevent a certain amount of climate change from becoming inevitable. This preparation to cope with the adverse impacts of human induced, or anthropogenic, climate change is known as adaptation.
In a country like Bangladesh, where our emissions of greenhouse gases are not very large, while potential adverse impacts are indeed very substantial, we need to focus more on adaptation rather than mitigation.
There is now a third aspect of the problem that stems from the collective global failure to both mitigate and adapt sufficiently to prevent a certain amount of adverse impacts from actually occurring and thus causing loss and damage to people, infrastructure, and ecosystems.
This third, and relatively new, aspect of the problem is thus called “loss and damage” and the solution to it is to provide compensation to those who suffer losses on the basis of assigning liability to those who were most responsible for causing the losses. In other words, it is an application of the polluter-pays-principle at the global level.
This last topic is highly politically sensitive as the main polluting countries are extremely reluctant to talk about liability and compensation and have made those taboo words in the international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
However, despite their efforts to prevent the topic being discussed the developing countries, led by Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and African countries, together were able to achieve two important victories in recent years on getting this issue addressed under the UNFCCC.
The first victory was achieved at the 19th annual conference of parties (COP19) held in Warsaw, Poland in December 2013 where all countries agreed to set up the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage with an Executive Committee to develop a work plan to address the topic which includes such aspects as slow onset events like sea level rise, rapid onset events like cyclones and floods, non-economic loss and damage, forced displacement and migration, and also innovative financial sources for paying compensation.
However, one compromise that the developing countries had to make in Warsaw was to agree to have the WIM set up under the umbrella of adaptation rather than accept that loss and damage was separate from adaptation.
Thus, a few years later when the negotiations for the Paris Agreement were held prior to COP21 in December 2015 in Paris, France these three groups of vulnerable developing countries took up the challenge again to try to get loss and damage accepted as separate from adaptation. This was finally achieved in the Paris Agreement where Adaptation is addressed in Article 7 and Loss and Damage in a separate Article 8 of the Agreement.
One of the major problems in talking about loss and damage due to anthropogenic climate change is the difficulty of attributing any particular climatic problem such as a specific flood, cyclone, or drought to human-induced climate change as opposed to natural climatic variability.
The year 2017 proved itself to have been the tipping point where this attribution is now being made by scientists who study the issue of attribution. It is still true that no single flood, cyclone or drought can he said to have been caused by human induced climate change, but what is possible to do is to attribute the enhanced intensity of the floods, cyclone and droughts due to the fact that we have already caused over one degree Centigrade of human induced climate change.
Thus the series of category four hurricanes in the Caribbean which devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the major flash floods in Bangladesh followed by major floods in the Ganges that hit Nepal, India and Bangladesh in succession as well as the unprecedented wild fires in California and Australia, to name only a few, have allowed scientists to unequivocally declare that 2017 was the year when the cumulative impacts of climatic events of unprecedented ferocity allows us to say for sure that human induced climate change is already happening and hence these new losses and damages can be attributed to it.
Bangladesh being one of the most vulnerable countries to the adverse impacts of human induced climate change, the government and the people of Bangladesh have been proactive in developing the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and then setting up the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) in 2009 with our own money to implement it. Finance Minister AMA Muhith has been allocating approximately $100 million equivalent in Bangladesh Taka into the BCCTF in his annual budget every year since then.
These funds have in turn supported hundreds of adaptation projects by government ministries and agencies as well as NGOs over the years. However, each year they only allocated two-thirds of the available funds towards projects and kept one-third in an interest-bearing bank account to be used in case of emergencies. This reserve fund has by now accumulated several hundred million dollars and has not been tapped. Neither has there been definition of how and when to tap these reserved funds.
At a recent international conference on climate finance in Dhaka the idea was put forward for Bangladesh to allocate this reserve fund towards setting up a national Loss and Damage mechanism (NL&DM). The finance minister, who was the chief guest on the occasion, liked the idea and asked for a proposal to be put up to him.
So, Bangladesh now has an opportunity to be a pioneer in setting up a national fund to tackle Loss and Damage from climate change which could be managed by the Ministry of Disaster Management with support from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It could be set up as a two-year pilot scheme using national experts to determine ways in which the funds would be used and how the disbursement of compensation could be done. It could also pilot such activities as weather index based insurance as well as look at non-economic Loss and Damage among other issues.
If Bangladesh uses its own money to develop such a pilot mechanism for addressing Loss and Damage in a practical and pragmatic way, the possibility of attracting international funding from the global community is quite good. In the end it is easier to get funding to do something practical to help people than it is to blame others and claim compensation from them.
The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh [email protected]