Lets take a look at the new ‘Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage’ agreed to by the UNFCCC COP in Warsaw last week, and its potential for breeding a climate of corruption.
Now that the COP19 has concluded, lets see what has actually been accomplished. I’ve seen a number of articles discussing walkouts, conflicts between developing and developed countries. Not a lot was accomplished, but there is now a new ‘Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.’
From The Hindu:
The ministers decided that a Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage would be agreed to and that it would be housed under the Conference of Parties. The part about deciding how this mechanism would get the funds in future remained the only unresolved piece of the puzzle.
Placing the mechanism under the Conference of Parties is a compromise for both the U.S. and the G77+ China group. Conference of Parties refers to the highest and most empowered body of the UN convention where each country is represented. The COP is empowered to make the most fundamental and critical decisions that lesser bodies are not. But housing the Warsaw Loss and Damage mechanism under the COP leaves the window open of shifting it one way or the other in next couple of years.
U.S. wanted that the mechanism should not become an independent body and be placed under the existing Adaptation body. This would have ensured that the idea of compensation, reparation and guilt of the developed countries for being the largest emitters of accumulated greenhouse gases is done away with. The G77+ China group wanted just the opposite.
The issue of finance and building the new agreement under the existing principles of the convention remained open though sources in the G77+China explained that not much could be expected out of the finance stream. They said, almost all developed countries had made clear that there was no hope of them committing either to a timeline for delivery of promised funds at Warsaw.
The so-called “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage” will from next year commit developed nations to providing expertise and potentially aid to countries hit by climate-related impacts.
However, the vague wording fell short of the kind of detailed commitments on additional funding and avoided a commitment to compensation that many developing nations had been seeking.
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change secretariat, said progress on loss and damage was essential in the wake of more frequent storms, such as the super typhoon Haiyan which tore through the Philippines earlier this month killing more than 5,000 people.
“Let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events and the poor and vulnerable are paying the price,” she said.
The summit once again saw tensions between developed and developing nations laid bare, with poorer countries responding angrily to moves by Japan, Australia and Canada to water down previous climate commitments.
There was also frustration at US opposition to the loss and damage mechanism and the failure of industrialised nations to make fresh emission reduction and climate financing commitments. Developed countries have agreed to prepare statements once every two years on how they are planning to scale up climate finance to deliver $100bn per year by 2020.
Earlier in the week around 800 people representing civil society groups, quit the summit, walking out in a mass protest at the reduced ambition from some countries and the Polish government’s decision to host a coal industry conference in parallel with COP 19.
However, concerns remain that differences over the key issues of climate financing and the way in which emission reductions should be shared between the world’s largest polluters, such as the US, China, the EU, and India will continue to dominate the long running negotiations.
A climate for corruption?
Climate scientists frequently bemoan their ‘communication problem,’, i.e. that people aren’t sufficiently alarmed. Well the IPCC seems to have the opposite problem with the UNFCCC: the UNFCCC seems to assume that every weather hazard is associated with anthropogenic global warming. And this is in spite of the very reasonable IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX) which finds very little evidence to support attribution of recent extreme events to AGW. Most specifically, with regards to tropical cyclones, the AR5 has even pulled back on the expectations for future intensity increases, now saying that an increase in intensity is ‘more likely than not’ (from ‘likely’ in the AR4).
While I am a big fan of strategies to reduce vulnerabilities to extreme weather events, I see three big problems with response strategies targeted at presumed AGW-enhanced extreme events:
- Assuming that future vulnerability is chiefly associated with effects from AGW (e.g. sea level rise) may lead to ineffective adaptation strategies that potentially increases vulnerability and neglect of other strategies that might more effectively reduce vulnerability
- Tying disaster prevention aid to AGW has the potential to motivate many types of corruption, even ‘cooking’ the data to make the country more deserving of aid.
- And finally, thinking that reducing CO2 emissions is going to help with extreme events in the 21st century is highly misguided, even if you buy the IPCC’s projections.
With regards to #2, my previous post Climate for Corruption is worth rereading in view of the Warsaw pact, which is summarized by this quote:
Corruption and climate change? Most people don’t see a connection. This is likely because they aren’t in the habit of thinking of climate change as a multi-billion dollar global industry. And wherever money flows plentifully, corruption is quick on its heels. – Alice Harrison, Transparency International’s Climate Governance Program
Press release: rapid sea level rise in Bangladesh
A prime example of #1 and #2 is suggested by this press release issued by John Pethick:
Calls for the west to compensate developing nations such as Bangladesh for the impacts of sea level rise are frequent, and were reiterated this week in the COP conference in Warsaw when Bangladesh delegates demanded US$100 billion to recoup the losses of climate change.
A recent research paper casts some doubt on these claims, since in most cases sea level rise has a local as well as a global component and in some cases, such as south west Bangladesh, this local component is significantly greater than the global response to climate change. The paper shows that a large part of the rapid rate of sea level rise in Bangladesh is due to the construction of flood embankments, designed to prevent flooding but which in fact actually increase the risk – providing an “own goal” rather than one from the west.
Sea level rise in the south west of Bangladesh is shown by this research to be partly due to natural subsidence of the delta but, in addition, the rate of sea level rise here has been exacerbated by the construction of flood embankments, forcing the tide into constricted channels and thus causing an increase in tidal range. This means that, in these so-called ‘protected’ areas, high tide levels – the cause of floods – are increasing at the rate of 17 mm per year at the present time– compared to the IPCC 5th Report prediction for increases in the rates of mean (average) sea level of between 4.3 mm and 11.1 mm per year by 2100. If the increase in tidal range continues (and this is problematic) then in south west Bangladesh by 2100 the total rise in sea level, that is the addition of local and global components, could be as much as 2.43 m with catastrophic impacts on this densely populated area.
The standard measurement of sea level rise is to take the average of water level readings, including both high and low tides, this is the measurement quoted by the IPCC as well as the Bangladesh authorities. But if tidal range is increasing, as it is in the embanked estuaries of Bangladesh, then high tide levels increase while low tide levels decrease so that the average approaches zero. In Bangladesh this average rate sea level rise is now around 3mm per year and this is the measure being used to calibrate ongoing flood defence measures while the 17 mm per year increase in high tide, mainly due to local factors, has been conveniently ignored. Instead, Bangladesh calls for compensation from the west for future sea level rise, part of which compensation will be used to increase the level of flood protection – so perpetuating, even exacerbating, the problem.
 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasini in interview with Washington Post, December 2012: ‘ It is impossible for Bangladesh alone to take action against the rising sea level, as it has been a cumulative effect of global emission in which Bangladesh does not have any role. It is the responsibility of global community to address this issue as urgently as possible.’
 Rapid rise in effective sea-level in southwest Bangladesh: Its causes and contemporary rates. J. Pethick & J. Orford. Global & Planetary Change 111 (2013) 237-245
 See Table 13.5 in IPCC 5th Assessment Report 2013 :the Physical Science Basis ..
 See Fig 13.11 in IPCC 5th AP Phiscal Science Basis
You may recall that Pethick’s paper was the subject of a recent post Bangladesh sea level rise.
WorldBank’s Coastal Improvement Project
From UNearth news:
On June 27, 2013 the World Bank, which has already given $1.6 billion in total concessionary lending to the Least Developed Country (LDC), allocated $400 million more to the Bangladesh Water Development Board to upgrade the nation’s water defense system.
The initiative, named the “Coastal Embankment Improvement Project,” is aimed at rehabilitating 17 Bangladeshi polders, portions of land built around the country’s coastal areas to prevent flood devastation.
Climate change and climate variability have been linked with the gradual deterioration of the embankment system. According to the World Bank, two-thirds of “productive” land is projected to be lost in southern Bangladesh with an anticipation of a 65-cm sea level rise by 2080.
The Bangladesh sea level rise is an excellent example to highlight the problems and challenges with the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damages.
According to the IPCC, global sea level rise is expected to rise at the rate of about 4 mm/yr, or about 65 cm increase by 2080. Observed sea level rise in Bangladesh is 17 mm/yr. The WorldBank’s solution is not only inadequate to deal with a projected sea level rise that may exceed 2 m, but according to Pethick, the so-called ‘cure’ – polders (flood embankments) – are actually making the sea level rise problem worse.
Is the Bangladeshi government and the World Bank government aware of this? They are aware of Pethick’s work (and there are other papers that document this issue also), and it is not difficult to imagine a motivation for effectively minimizing the sea level rise to fit into the AGW expectations. So why this charade of spending all this money on something that won’t work and may potentially make the problem worse? Well of course there is uncertainty in all this (including Pethick’s estimates). However, the objective of reducing Bangladesh’s vulnerability to storm surges and sea level rise seems to have gotten lost in the desire to spend and receive money and to play the politics of AGW Loss and Damage.
Now, with the new Warsaw pact, multiply this by the number of developing countries, all vying for a piece of the Loss and Damage fund. Strategies to succeed are based on torquing every problem to be caused by AGW, and so to exaggerate or minimize existing problems to fit into some preconceived AGW damage magnitude, and relatively ignore other potentially more serious problems. And the developed world will pay the bills, often for things that do not help address the real problems.
So, what to do? I think it would have been better to remove the Loss and Damage fund from the COP and divorce it from AGW. There is a real need to help the developing countries reduce their vulnerability from extreme weather events. But posing this as an AGW issue isn’t warranted and distracts from the broader issues of reducing vulnerability to extreme events, which are relentlessly impoverishing in the developing world.
I realize divorcing Loss and Damage from AGW would be an enormous challenge, but it might make this more palatable to some of the developed countries and provide something more useful to the developing countries. And why I’m giving ‘advice’ here, don’t forget to figure out how to deal with the corruption issue Climate for Corruption.