Avert, avoid, minimize: CGIAR research well-positioned to inform loss and damage negotiations in critical year

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Given the glacial progress of climate action to date, it is now clear that even if climate actions ramp up in the immediate future, losses and damages (L&D) are inevitable – It is imperative that we intensify our efforts deal with them. The first two webinars in the CGIAR Climate Impact Platform’s new series explored L&D from both the scientific and the policy perspective, aiming to disentangle some of the thornier issues in this long fought-over field.

This new webinar series aims to highlight important areas of climate research that CGIAR does not yet work on extensively. By bringing CGIAR staff insights on novel topics to inspire research, each webinar will further participants’ understanding of important new developments in climate policy and science, with implications for their work.

Why CGIAR should undertake research related to climate losses and damages

The planet has already warmed by approximately 1.2°C due to human-induced climate change. Every region of the globe is affected, and millions of people today are facing the negative impacts of higher temperatures, less predictable rainfall, rising sea levels and fiercer storms. As a highly weather-dependent system, the agrifood sector – and the 3.83 billion people whose livelihoods it supports – is particularly vulnerable. We are witnessing dangerous and widespread losses and damages today, and we anticipate that future loss and damages will rise with increased global warming.

How we handle these losses and damages is a key climate justice concern.

With the operational details of the Loss and Damage Fund currently being fleshed out, these timely explorations of the fight to get us to this point and what comes next asked attendees to consider: What can we advocate for, how, and with what financing? What research questions can the CGIAR ask in the loss and damage space? How can new breakthroughs in attribution science inform policymakers and farmers?

Webinar 1: How can attribution science inform loss and damage?

As the climate changes, extreme weather events’ frequency and intensity increase. Record-breaking heat waves on land and in the ocean, drenching rains, severe floods, years-long droughts, extreme wildfires, and widespread flooding are all becoming more frequent and intense. But now, we can calculate the influence of climate change on (some) of these extreme weather events, particularly heat extremes. Low agricultural yields with devastating consequences can be attributed to human-caused climate change thanks to large-ensemble climate data and impact modelling: this is attribution science.

Attribution science is about understanding the role of climate change versus natural weather patterns and climate variability for extreme weather events. Climate attribution science uses statistical methods and computer models to compare observed climate data with global climate simulations that include and exclude human influence. By comparing these two data sets, scientists can determine the probability that human activities are responsible for observed changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and other climate change indicators. They can also look at known carbon emission sources and model the world with and without those added emissions.

In the Climate Impact Platform’s inaugural webinar on 25 March, we asked – what does this mean for loss and damage? You can watch the recording here.

Dr Friederike Otto, the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, discussed the legal and policy implications of attribution science, discussing its development in recent years and exploring how it can be a useful tool for loss and damage attribution. As the co-founder of and co-lead of the World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international effort to analyze and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events, Dr Otto was recognized on the TIME100 list as one of the world’s top 100 most influential individuals.

“The era of losses and damages has not just begun,” Dr Otto explained. “There are attribution studies that show that even in the dustbowl years in the 1930s in the US, the heatwaves that were experienced then were stronger due to human-induced climate change. Loss and damage is really not something new. But of course, with increasing emissions, the impacts and the losses have grown dramatically in the last few years.”

‘Disasters’ are not just the hazard. Attribution analyzes focus on extreme weather events, but vulnerability, exposure, and capacity also play key roles in understanding the severity and extent of the impacts. Additionally, Dr Joyce Kimutai, the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment and the Kenya Meteorological Department, explored the political dimensions of attribution science, explaining how it cannot be the sole determinant of loss and damage assessments, given the data limitations in many African countries. She also discussed alternative ways of determining losses and damages that may be more appropriate for contexts where the powers of attribution science are limited.

“Losses and damages result when efforts to avoid or minimize climate impacts through adaptation or mitigation fail. For adaptation, it could be because there are no adaptive options available to avoid intolerable risk, or it could be that the options exist, but they are not currently available,” Dr Kimutai explained. “At the moment, attribution cannot be performed at the same level of quality everywhere across the world. We must ask the question: should only losses and damages from attributable events be compensated?

The webinar concluded with the need to improve data quality and accessibility for climate change attribution, so more regions can make use of this powerful tool, and also with a call to focus on vulnerability in the loss and damage framework. Attribution science is potentially revolutionary – but it has limits.



Webinar 2: Loss and damage in the policy space: Understanding its past, present and future

In the second Climate Impact Platform webinar hosted on 23 April 2024, Dr Animesh Kumar, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), and Ms Teresa Anderson, Global Lead on Climate Justice at ActionAid International, explored the past, present and future of loss and damage negotiations. Offering professional and personal experiences from both the negotiating rooms of high level political conferences and the streets, the speakers gave insights from the disaster risk reduction field and the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) space. You can watch the recording here.

Dr Kumar offered an overview of the loss and damage fund negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. With a background in disaster risk reduction, Dr Kumar stressed the need for cross-sector collaboration. The UNDRR conducted a survey in 2021 to identify the key demands made to countries for technical assistance for loss and damage through the Santiago network, which aims to catalyze technical assistance to avert, minimize and address loss and damage at different levels and was launched at COP25 in 2019. When doing the same exercise for the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, Dr Kumar and his team found similar examples of capacity gaps.

“This means that while we may talk about conceptually different things [in disaster risk reduction and loss and damage negotiations], when it comes to the real action to be taken to combat loss and damage, we are talking about common approaches,” he said. The UNDRR has proposed a framework for financing recovery from and resilience to losses and damages caused by extreme and slow onset events within the disaster risk reduction field, which Dr Kumar argues should inform loss and damage funding arrangements.

Going forward, the secretariats of the Loss and Damage Fund and the Santiago network will coordinate with each other. The Santiago network will provide technical assistance and the Los and Damage Fund will provide funding.

Centering the climate justice perspective, Ms. Anderson explained how “Those most affected by climate change have done the least to cause the problem and have the least capacity to address it. Meanwhile, wealthy polluting countries have the most historical responsibility for causing the climate crisis and have the most capacity to take action and provide finance. This is the fundamental injustice of climate change.”

Developing countries, economies heavily dependent on agriculture, people living in poverty, marginalized communities, youth, women, and girls are among the most vulnerable to experiencing losses and damages from the climate crisis. Women and children are 14 times more likely to die from disasters, and climate impacts exacerbate existing inequalities and cast a long shadow through cuts in public services, potentially keeping some in poverty for generations.

Noting that these justice considerations are of the utmost importance to any Loss and Damage Fund, Ms. Anderson explained how the progress made to date has been in large part due to the valiant and sustained efforts of many of the most vulnerable, as well as civil society and communities of concerned people around the world. Finally, after years of campaigning, the Loss and Damage Fund was established at COP27. Board meetings are taking place throughout 2024 to decide on the governance structure of the Fund. According to Ms Anderson, ActionAid aims to ensure the Fund is responsive, rapid, and effective. Questions about who contributes the funding, how much, and of what type remain.

However, the UNFCCC are only allowing two representatives per civil society constituency into these board meetings. “This means that this process is a) less transparent, and b) that the board members will not be able to hear from expertise like ours [at ActionAid], like yours [at CGIAR], as much as they need to in order to develop a fit-for-purpose fund,” Ms. Anderson said. “So, we’re really pushing them on that, because we want to make sure that this delivers on things like direct access funding for communities.”

Connecting science with policy

The role of science in contributing to loss and damage conversations remains critical, as it provides the assessments, evidence, tools, and technical knowledge needed to (re)build climate-resilient societies and inform decisions about where – and how much – funding should be allocated.

As the CGIAR Climate Impact Platform continues to facilitate important discussions through its webinar series, our global, collective understanding of loss and damage is evolving. Insights from these dialogues can help shape research questions and projects designed to limit the adverse impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable.

What research questions can the CGIAR ask? Think about the limited data availability in some geographies, constraining the role of attribution science in those territories; the need to develop standardized methods to quantify losses and damages; how to design and conduct policy dialogues on how to help countries claim for losses and damages from the fund.

Within the CGIAR, the CGIAR Initiative on Asian Mega-Deltas (AMD) is investigating losses and damages from climate change in the Ganges and Mekong Deltas, as well as how countries and other international organisations are addressing them. This type of work will only become more critical as temperatures continue to climb and losses and damages, devastatingly, accumulate.

Written by Suzie Marshall

Edited by Gina Edward-Uwadiale


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