Loss and Damage: Missing from the text

by Graham Reeder and Katie O’Brien

This is what loss and damage looks like

As we came to Doha last week, we were fully expecting Loss and Damage to be a key outcome of this conference in Doha. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC went to the African Meeting of the Ministers of the Environment to encourage them to push for more adaptation outcomes at this COP (mostly because she saw it as the only real deliverable here).

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The kids are not alright: Frustration grows as the UNFCCC fails to actually address climate change

by Graham Reeder

In 1992, the world’s governments came together in Rio and agreed to a framework convention with the straightforward objective of achieving “the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” This was to be achieved “within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” (Article 2 of the Convention: Objectives)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world’s governments have already failed to achieve this. Science tells us that the safe level of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million, the average concentration in 2011 was 391.57. In terms of timeframe and natural adaptation, given what countries are putting on the table, we are on track for 4 to 6°C of average temperature rise, if you take a look at the recent world bank report the impacts of a four degree warmer world are chilling, they include dramatic heat waves and drought, glacial retreat, and sea-level rise. All you have to do is ask a pastoralist farmer in the horn of Africa, which is on its fifth consecutive year of severe drought, to find out if food production is being threatened by climate change. Parties here in Doha are in a peculiar situation, in which they know that the multilateral system is the only forum in which countries can truly address climate change in a just and whole manner, but in which we are so clearly failing to do so.

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Loss and Damage from Climate Change-A human rights perspective

~graham reeder

While climate change negotiations have stagnated over time due to a lack of political will, many are arguing that the diplomatic approach that the UNFCCC has taken to arriving at agreement—one where treaties and agreements are built out of what parties are willing to contribute or concede—does not do justice to the urgency and potency of the issues at hand. Some lawyers are arguing that a human rights based approach could benefit the process in that it gives the international community increased power to intervene and combat the defence of state’s sovereign rights to act as they wish within their own borders. While the rights based approach is multi-faceted and impact a number of different elements of UNFCCC negotiations, one element of human rights law stands out in terms of informing current climate negotiations: that of addressing liability for impacts, loss, and damage due to climate change.

There are a number of international treaties that elaborate human rights that are threaned by climate change, these rights include the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to housing, the right to food, the right to health, and the right to self-determination; the treaties include the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (MWC). Many of the rights guaranteed in these treaties, particularly the right to life, are not to be interpreted in a restrictive manner; they require positive measures to be taken by states to protect them. The Human Rights Committee noted that states are responsible for preventing acts of mass violence causing arbitrary loss of life, which some have argued could include climate change. Preventing and minimising loss of life from natural disasters and other climate related events is an obligation of states who are parties to the aforementioned conventions.

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Financing Adaptation: Who Will Pay?

[images from BBC]

by Nathan Thanki and Graham Reeder

Given that we’re now experiencing another summer of bizarre weather events, including deadly heat waves, wildfires, and storms in the US, and increased chances of another El Nino year, many in the US are finally opening their eyes to what scientists have been telling them for years: climate change is real, but not only that, it is happening now. Climate change is no longer a theoretical danger, it is a tangible phenomenon that is striking worldwide. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of climate change lies in the fact that it affects first and foremost the world’s most vulnerable people, usually those who have done the least to cause climate change.

Hopefully that knowledge will lead us to conclude that adaptation to climate change is something that should be developed, studied, and supported with finance, technology, and capacity. Depending on the resilience of a community, people will adapt to climate change when driven to in a variety of different ways. This is why it is important to support adaptation proactively, not as a last minute band-aid solution. Building strong and resilient communities that are informed about and prepared for the challenges they will face is the only way to avoid catastrophe when the challenges of climate change hit; this became all too clear in the US during Hurricane Katrina, when careless and underfunded disaster management led to tragedy on a totally unnecessary scale.

From that we should probably conclude that adaptation to climate change is something that should be developed, studied, and supported with finance, technology, and capacity. But if one looks into the history of the concept of adaptation, we see that not everyone has reached such obvious conclusions. Initially it seemed that to prioritise adaptation was 'defeatist' – a sort of acceptance that climate change was happening already which would allow big emitters to say "well hang about, it's already happening and it aint so bad, let's keep going here." For years the fight was meant to be on how to stop these emitters from business as usual: the mitigation battle. It turns out that mitigation can be a money spinner for some, and as the carbon markets and their various complexities were born and grew up into the evil bastard children they now are (just google REDD+ human rights violations for a whole litany of errors), the adaptation element was banished to more obscure corners of academia and activism. There is good work being done on adaptation, but it has largely been done in universities and scientific agencies or with smaller NGOs. The most high profile adaptation planning is done by developed world governments who are investing in their own adaptation planning and implementation, while doing very little at the multilateral level beyond giving encouraging words of support to those doing further research.

In Durban everyone was interested in the Green Climate Fund. One of the big demands from civil society was that this new tool in the already cluttered climate finance toolbox would address the adaptation gap by specifying that at least 50% of funds should be for adaptation projects. Closing the “adaptation gap” has long been a priority of developing countries, and in the discussions surrounding the GCF it was clear that it had become a priority for much of civil society too. For good reason: the report from the GEF to the Conference shows that some $3 billion have been doled out for mitigation projects, compared to a measly $300 million for adaptation.

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Cross post: Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues

 

-Cross posted from the International Centre for Migration Health and Development (ICMHD) at  http://icmhd.wordpress.com/

Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues

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As the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20 or the Earth Summit, wrapped up at the end of last week, responses from experts, media and civil society ranged from lukewarm notes of voluntary commitments made by some countries on the side to outright rejection of the outcome and the conference itself. Overall, world leaders and governments failed to come to a strong agreement that would ensure a safe and just future through a post-2015 sustainable development regime. Instead, they largely spent time hammering out trade agreements and making noncommittal statements about the importance of a broad range of issues.

In terms of migration and health, the Rio outcome document titled “The Future we want”, delivered very little new progress. At the original Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, leaders were committed to developing better modelling and research on migration and the environment, new policies and programmes that would address environmental migrants and displaced people, and stronger capacity to address the needs of environmental migrants. Since then, progress has been mixed, positive examples include the annual Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group, two organisations that improve data, consolidate information, develop strategies, and encourage best practices on links between migration and development.

However, most of the progress made and research done on migration and development has been from a strictly economic perspective. This prioritises working conditions and remittances, which are important, but fails to see migration for what it is: a cross-cutting issue that needs to be addressed in a wide range of sectors, like health. A cross-sectoral approach to migration would allow for a more comprehensive understanding of all the work that needs to be done to protect this often highly vulnerable group of people.

Health outcomes were little better, Health and Population are at least considered a thematic area in the framework for action and follow-up, but the outcome was weak overall, with fewer than half of the paragraphs using “commit” as operative language, favouring weaker language such as “recognise,” “emphasize,” and “reaffirm.” Thankfully, the text did commit countries to consider population trends, including migration, in development planning, though it neglected the important ties between migration, development, the environment, and health.

Language concerning reproductive health, though present, was not as strong as it should have been, largely due to strong objections by the Vatican, an observer state in the process. In her closing remarks last Friday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said “while I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach out goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.” Reproductive rights are a fundamental precondition for sustainable development, and migrant and refugee women need special consideration as they face their own unique sets of circumstances that strongly influence their reproductive health.

Despite the failure of the world’s governments to come to a robust agreement last week in Rio, important work on all of the issues of sustainable development, including migrant health, is still being done at a range of different levels.

-Graham Reeder