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Figuring out compensation

  • Published at 10:59 pm May 20th, 2018
typhoon-haiyan-2013-1526835482849.jpg
Typhoon Haiyan caused immeasurable damage in the Philippines in 2013. As extreme-weather events become worse because of climate change, it is important the countries most responsible are held accountable Wikimedia Commons

Accountability through the lens of climate justice

Earlier this month, delegates from the UN climate body met in Bonn, Germany for the Suva Expert Dialogue on loss and damage. 

Unfortunately, other than insurance, there was very little discussion on possible avenues of finance for loss and damage that climate vulnerable countries are likely to experience in the coming decades.

A recent report from the Heinrich Böll Foundation based in Berlin estimated un-avoided loss and damage would cost annually about US$50 billion by 2020, and US$300 billion by 2030. 

The UN climate body currently avoids any mechanism for financial accountability for human-induced climate change, because industrialized countries were unwilling to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change unless liability and compensation were explicitly excluded.  

A climate justice approach

Many activists and scholars from both the global North and global South maintain that accountability is a crucial element for ensuring climate justice. 

Climate justice refers to the idea that the countries least responsible for climate change are also the most responsible; and should be supported by the industrialized countries that are responsible. 

It is a useful approach, because it pushes global climate conversations beyond purely environmental and technical considerations, and raises ethical concerns. It also creates a platform by which the most vulnerable can start to have conversations around equality, international principles of ‘no harm’ and historical obligations.

On framing accountability

There are two ways in which a loss and damage mechanism could frame accountability, according to Johnson, (2017), in ‘Holding Polluting Countries to Account for Climate Change: Is “Loss and Damage” Up to the Task?’

The first is in terms of which countries have emitted the most CO2, and therefore should be held responsible. However, any mechanism here would have to clarify the time span in which nations are held accountable: countries that are emitting the most now, the ones that have emitted the most since the first climate agreements were put in place, or countries that have historically emitted the most.

Another way to frame accountability is in terms of the Earth’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, and “distributing” this absorption on an equitable basis. In other words, countries are held responsible depending on whether or not they have overstepped this emissions limit. 

While the former focuses on solely on emissions, the latter emphasizes the limit which countries should have a right to emit, leading to slightly different implications for accountability within a possible loss and damage framework.

It is paramount that any loss and damage mechanism is underlain with principles of climate justice to ensure the most responsible for climate change are held accountable, and are thus able to support the most affected. 


Laura Bahlman is currently doing her masters in International Development at Massey University, New Zealand. Meraz Mostafa is a research officer at ICCCAD, IUB.