What is the Glasgow Dialogue?A
The Glasgow Dialogue is supposed to bring governments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC together to continue conversations about how to fund Loss and Damage (L&D).
This term, ”Loss and Damage”, is shorthand for the costs that are associated with the fact that people – particularly in small island states and least developed countries – already experience very severe impacts on their lives and livelihoods from climate change. That’s because efforts to reduce emissions, as well as those to adapt to the impacts, have not been enough globally.
At the most recent UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, a group of developing countries pushed for a facility as a structure under the UNFCCC to provide finance to address these losses and damages that, by the way, include not only economic costs that occur when communities are hit by climate change impacts in one or another, but also the costs of psychological impacts or the loss of culture and diversity.
But developed countries refused to establish such a facility. Instead, they agreed to this dialogue that now kicks off at the intersessional, or Bonn Climate Change Conference, and continues at subsequent intersessional meetings until June 2024.
What is going to be discussed in Bonn?A
The dialogue starts with some scene-setting on Tuesday, 7 June 2022, to establish the context for L&D, share experiences and look at the finance landscape. That first session seems to me like a waste of time because it focuses on things we already know, including through a technical paper by the UNFCCC secretariat from the June 2019 Bonn Climate Change Conference.
On Wednesday, breakout groups are set to discuss what funding mechanisms are in place, what barriers exist to accessing finance and how they could be overcome. The final session on Saturday will then sketch a way forward to the next dialogue in June 2023. But according to the schedule, the dialogue will see no discussions on needs and options for new and additional finance streams and structures.
An open question is how the outcomes of the Glasgow Dialogue will be integrated in the subsequential negotiations. The dialogue right now is only an event with little value in the decision-making process of the UNFCCC. There is always a risk that its findings end up forgotten in some bottom drawer like what has happened in the past with the Suva or Talanoa Dialogues. The stakes are high on whether proponent countries will manage to transform these findings into concrete action.
What would be a good outcome of this particular dialogue now in Bonn?A
One good outcome would be if countries could agree on the topic of reparations. This topic has been very sensitive indeed because Global North countries don’t want to be held liable for costs that are incurred by the impacts of climate change. As a consequence, it’s been hard to have any progress whatsoever on the subject of finance for L&D and it would be a big step ahead towards more constructive conversations.
In our SEI research on designing a fair and feasible finance mechanism for L&D, we concluded that it’s more helpful right now to focus on solidarity rather than on reparations and compensation. But we do think that given the scale of global needs, a formal dedicated loss and damage finance mechanism should remain the long-term goal and we will be fleshing out the modalities of what that could look like in our further research.
What would that facility be able to do that none of the other existing climate funds are doing?A
The existing climate funds were established to support the mitigation actions and adaptation actions of countries in the Global South. The terms that are used in the context of the UNFCCC are “averting, minimizing and addressing” loss and damage. Climate change mitigation aims at reducing emissions, which means averting loss and damage. Adaptation is about minimizing losses and damages, but the “addressing” part is still missing and the existing funds have no mandate to address loss and damage.
When it comes to preparing to address risk – early warning systems, risk management and so on – that’s something the existing funds are willing to take on within their scope as part of adaptation action. But once a hurricane hits or a coast is eroded and the people who live there have no choice but to relocate, these kinds of events are not considered under the UNFCCC and they are also not addressed by the Adaptation Fund or the Green Climate Fund.
Humanitarian organisations do provide vital support for disaster events and bridges should be built between our two complementary fields. But their approaches currently fail to include future climate change scenarios and may therefore fail at addressing the specific consequences of climate change.
And then there are the so-called slow-onset events such as sea level rise that happen slowly and don’t fall into the disaster category that currently remain unaddressed.
Your work also recommended assessing the needs on the ground. What are the needs and how can you even take a first step in assessing them?A
That’s one of the problems. We barely know what the needs are because a lot of the regions that are facing the biggest losses in damages of climate change have been ignored. They haven’t received the attention they deserve and we have a hard time understanding what is already happening there. These populations are already adapting by themselves and they’re already addressing losses as they can. But while some systems are being put in place, they ask for additional support.
A first step is to try to understand what is being done, what the people on the ground need and want, and measure this both in monetary and non-monetary terms. At SEI, we will be doing case studies on this in 2023, together with several partners.
What to you would be the best possible outcome of this dialogue at the Bonn Climate Change Conference?A
To me, it would be an agreement to set up a finance facility and to have the modalities and mandate of that facility as advanced as possible. Because we have very little time and the faster we act, the better.
At the same time, we have to strike a balance between getting things done and getting them done right. The facility needs to end up addressing the right issues and reach the right people.