The next step: compensation

10 June 2015

It is always heartening when language in the Geneva text relates directly to issues being faced by communities in the real world. That is exactly the case with the references to compensation and a climate displacement facility. Unfortunately, this language is also deeply controversial: any question of liability for harm in other parts of the world sends developed countries – despite having caused the main problem – running for cover.

The science can’t be hidden, though. It is clear that cumulative emissions (mostly from developed countries) are the cause of the loss and damage that people across the developing world are facing today.

International law is equally clear – it is a fundamental legal principle, confirmed by the International Court of Justice, that states should not cause harm outside their jurisdiction and should respect the environment of other states and areas beyond their frontiers. The UNFCCC requires developed countries to take the lead in reducing their greenhouse emissions to a level which prevents dangerous climate change. Their failure to do this raises legal consequences because developing countries now face climate consequences that can’t be adapted to.

Notwithstanding the fact that keeping global warming below 1.5°C will require action by all Parties. Developed countries must make more serious efforts to slash their emissions. They should also be offering compensation for the harm already locked in.

It’s not just about the money; Parties should work creatively and cooperatively to find ways to acknowledge the devastating loss of culture, livelihoods, land, biodiversity, ecosystem services and other impacts on communities. The Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) is ideally placed to help fill gaping holes in legal protection for those displaced or forced to migrate as a result of climate change.

The deafening silence from developed countries on the question of recompense for loss and damage is increasingly untenable. The importance of coming to a fair solution is a focus not only in the corridors of the climate negotiations but in courts and communities across the world. It is time to recognise that the Paris agreement should form part of the answer.

The next step: compensation

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