Obviously, the Co-Chair of the contact group for Loss and Damage, Robert Van Lierop (representing St. Kitts and Nevis) was a bit older than ten when, in 1991, he recommended tabling the issue of Loss and Damage. This astonishing admission came about when the G-77/China group mentioned that this topic wasn’t new to Doha last year, but had actually been in the works for three years. The representative of Nauru has a longer memory, and she mentioned that the topic was first mentioned at Bali in 1991, and that the co-chair of this current meeting was responsible for tabling it. In the interest of full disclosure, Van Lierop acknowledged the misstep, and, in a humbling moment, said he tabled the motion “when I was ten.”
To be fair, in 1991, the severe impacts of climate change were being considered more as a theoretical possibility, and not as something absolutely certain. The first IPCC report had just been published in 1990, which served as the basis for the UNFCCC meetings. But for the past few COP meetings, climate change impacts are clearly a reality, and Loss and Damage is an important topic.
The first meeting of the contact group was open to observers, but will quickly change to closed meetings for the duration of COP 19. Bolivia, speaking on behalf of China and the G77 has urged the group to quickly start working on the text itself, rather than spending time on speeches and rhetoric. In good faith, they submitted a text hours earlier and sent it ahead to the other parties. The Co-Chair acknowledged the submitted text, along with two others: those submitted by the EU and Switzerland/Norway. However, no texts were available at the time of the meeting for discussion, and opening statements were made as usual.
All of the representatives who spoke conveyed their thoughts and prayers to the people of the Philippines. The United States representative spoke of the $20 million of humanitarian assistance already committed to the Philippines, along with the pre-positioned team coordinating help efforts. She also recognized the existential threat to low-lying islands for a variety of reasons. There is a broad range of issues that are part of Loss and Damage, including mitigation, assistance, and migration. A comprehensive report about the various aspects of this important issue can be found here.
At this point, only the text by China and the G77 is posted online at the UNFCCC site. This is an issue that will be carefully watched by the developing countries and the NGOs. The developing countries strongly believe that they need to have a system in place to address loss and damage, and they are looking beyond ad hoc humanitarian responses which are are “appreciated but not adequate.”