climate change

[OPINION] Loss and damage from Typhoon Odette

Tony La Viña, Joy Reyes, Vanessa Vergara, Meggie Nolasco

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[OPINION] Loss and damage from Typhoon Odette

David Castuciano

Unfortunately, so many things are crystal clear now, much more so in the wake of Typhoon Odette

Read: [OPINION] Momentum for climate justice

Typhoon Odette, internationally known as Rai, ravaged central and southern Philippines a few days short of Christmas, leaving many parts of the country without access to food, water, and connectivity, and leaving in its wake lost lives and livelihood.

This is the second year in a row that such a devastating calamity took place in the country outside of the annual typhoon season, understandably leaving so many worried, and even more angry and frustrated as they ask: What happens next?

Unfortunately, so many things are crystal clear now, much more so in the wake of Typhoon Odette: first, that the increasing global temperature will mean that countries, particularly climate-vulnerable ones, will be experiencing – and are in fact already experiencing – harsher weather occurrences, including more intense droughts and more frequent typhoons; second, that the nature of the changes in climate undoubtedly means we are now in the midst of a climate crisis; and third, that the climate crisis is largely the result of historical emissions from the Global North, and therefore the best way to get through the crisis is to address the elephant in the room – loss and damage.

Paris Agreement goal

Among the many goals of the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated at the Conference of Parties 21 (COP21), is the limiting of the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, and make efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to meet this goal, Parties have to create local commitments in order to meet this goal, called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and to take part in international cooperation to achieve the same. 

According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) released in August 2021, unless there are immediate and rapid reductions in large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, the goal will be beyond reach. The report further stated that every inhabited region in the world is already suffering from extreme changes in climate, and that the change in climate is unequivocally the result of human influence. 

For the Alliance Statement by the Alliance for Climate Transformation 2025 (ACT2025), a coalition which includes the Manila Observatory, the absence, therefore, of more ambitious climate action towards resolving the climate crisis, all countries – but most especially all vulnerable populations – will experience losses and damages, rendering the impacts of the climate crisis permanent.

Loss and damage, cemented in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, refers to the consequences associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, such as loss and damage of lives, ecosystems, and infrastructure. Some efforts have already been made to address the concept of loss and damage in subsequent COPs, however, they remain insufficient to fully operationalize loss and damage in order to be useful for climate-vulnerable countries. 

Towards a loss and damage facility

For instance, in COP19 in Warsaw, parties agreed on the Warsaw International Mecanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), established to address loss and damage; and in COP25 in Madrid, the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage (SNLD) was formed to ensure technical assistance in order to support the most climate-vulnerable countries, and a portal that was web-based was also created in order to facilitate such assistance-giving. In the interim COPs, discussions on the WIM were held, and loss and damage was integrated into the Paris Agreement’s transparency framework and global stocktake. 

Therefore, in the 26th COP in Glasgow, Scotland, held in November 2021, loss and damage was an issue that developing countries and observer delegates brought forward and expected to be made a permanent agenda item, citing the urgent need considering the extreme weather events that are currently taking place, and will keep taking place if no action is done in a concrete, urgent manner. Many nongovernmental organizations, Philippine NGOs included, called for the operationalization of the SNLD for it to become something more than a web-based tool.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, which is the agreed-upon document at the close of COP26, again saw some success. One of the said successes of the decision is the provision that welcomed the further operationalization of the SNLD (not without the assistance of two Filipinos – Atty. Vice Yu, who is the chief negotiator of the G77 and China, and Department of Energy Undersecretary Felix “Wimpy” Fuentebella) and decided that the SNLD will be supported by a technical assistance facility. Further, it established the Glasgow Dialogue “between Parties, relevant organizations and stakeholders to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change,” and requested the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to organize the Glasgow Dialogue “in cooperation with the Executive Committee of the” WIM. The parties also agreed on the functions of the SNLD and a process was created to develop its institutional arrangements, modalities, and structure; it is endeavored to have the SNLD fully operationalized by COP27. 

Despite all these, the truth is that while global temperatures continue to rise, extreme weather events will take place – not just in climate-vulnerable countries, but everywhere else in the world. The climate emergency is, for many people, a matter of life and death. There is, therefore, a need to truly focus on loss and damage, both locally and internationally. There is also a need to be more aggressive about the discussion on funding, which is just as important – if not more – as the creation of a technical assistance facility. After all, while the calls of developing nations have been strong to push for loss and damage funding, funding is still very scarce. By the end of the COP26 in Glasgow, only Scotland offered money for loss and damage funding, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describing the £2-million loss and damage fund as “not as an act of charity but as an act of reparation.” 

Unless loss and damage is given focus now, typhoons like Odette, with ramifications of its magnitude, will continue to ravage us, and it will not take long until the rest of the world experiences the harshest effects of the changing climate. We cannot afford to wait any longer; the crisis is here. This is demanded by climate justice, the momentum of which we describe in part 2 of this article. –

Tony La Viña is the Associate Director for climate policy and International relations of Manila Observatory. He also teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Joy Reyes and Vanessa Vergara are human rights and climate justice lawyers affiliated with the Manila Observatory.

Meggie Nolasco is the executive director of Salugpongan Schools and the PinoyMedia Center.

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