IN-DEPTH: Small island states scored historic victory on L&D

Small Islands States got a sense that they would have not returned home with empty hands from COP 21 when President Obama, meeting with AOSIS representatives on Day2,  defined himself as an “island boy” and called for an ambitious and transparent agreement to save these nations. Indeed, insular states scored significant victories with respect to the inclusion of the 1.5°C temperature goal in the Agreement objectives (Article 2) and the obtainment of a stand-alone article on loss and damage (Article 8).

In particular, Article 8 recognizes the importance of “averting, minimizing and addressing” L&D, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the associated risk. The article sanctions the permanence of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), created in 2013 to advance knowledge gathering, coordination and support on the topic, leaving however the door open for it to be “enhanced and strengthened” through future COP decisions. It also calls Parties to work “on a cooperative and facilitative basis” to “enhance understanding, action and support” in areas including early warning systems, comprehensive risk assessment and management, risk insurance facilities, climate risk pooling, and non-economic losses.

While a common ground on the 1.5°C was easier to predict, especially after the lunch of the “High ambition Coalition” ultimately joint by the US and the EU, L&D turned out to be much thornier. The last ADP round before Paris had left Parties with the issue completely unsolved. The Draft agreement forwarded to COP 21 still included the incompatible proposals by the Umbrella Group, calling for no reference to L&D in the text, and by the G77, advancing the establishment of a brand new mechanism to replace the WIM and featuring a climate displacement coordination facility “to address the displacement of people as a result of extreme impacts of climate change”. Negotiations on L&D made no formal advancement until the release of the first Draft of the Agreement on November the 5th, which included two options for L&D to appear in the final text: as a separate article or as a part of Article 4 alongside adaptation provisions.

The inclusion within the adaptation pillar was in fact not an option for developing countries, consistently with their repeated claims for L&D to be something beyond adaptation and thus to be treated with separate tools. Another main hurdle to clear was the reference to the concepts of liability and compensation, perceived as red lines for Parties. In particular, the US had made their position very clear before coming to Paris, with Secretary of State Kerry declaring to be “in favor of framing [L&D] in a way that doesn’t create a legal remedy” as any reference to responsibility would have encountered the opposition of the Congress and had the effect “to kill the deal”. To facilitate a resolution, informal consultations were held on December the 8th under the aegis of the Comitè de Paris, an open-ended single-setting group set by the French Presidency to make progress and facilitate compromise on the draft Paris Outcome. While recognizing the absence of a “clear common ground”, consultations identified possible levies for a compromise including “references to a temperature goal, vulnerability, or to common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.

However, much of the diplomatic work had already begun behind the scenes. The road for a compromise had been paved in the first days, with president Obama pledging a contribution of USD 30 million to climate risk insurance schemes in the Pacific, Central America and Africa. The money is meant to support the Pacific Catastrophic Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI) and the African Risk Capacity programme (ARC), and to expand the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) to Central American countries. Talks between the US and islands nations, labelled “meeting of the minds” by Secretary Kerry, continued at the onset of the second week, with Saint Lucia minister Fletcher synthetizing their objective in “ensur[ing] that everybody was comfortable with the agreement”.

A compromise was eventually found by inserting a clause (paragraph 52) in the accompanying decision to the Agreement which states that Article 8 should not “ involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation” claim. The solution, however, was not supported by developing countries as whole. The Philippines expressed deep concern and Bolivia stated that “no clause can deny people and countries’ rights to ask for compensation” and that “all the necessary institutional means will be used so that [climate] justice can be made”.


(Image: Obama meeting with small islands leaders on December 1, 2015. Photo credit: Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), on