Last week, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean issued a threat that is somewhat unprecedented in the history of climate change negotiations. “My government is exploring all avenues to utilise the judicial systems in various jurisdictions, including those under international law, to shift the costs of climate protection back on to the fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions and the governments that knowingly created this existential threat to my country,” the foreign minister of Vanatu, Ralph Regenvanu, said at the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an online summit focused on those most at risk from the effects of climate change. In the past, fossil fuel companies have faced litigation for their culpability for global warming. But this is the first time that a nation-state has called for legal action to seek compensation for climate-related damages. The Pacific nation’s threat, that was supported by other participating countries at the forum, highlights the growing sense of frustration among the small island states over the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) loss and damage mechanism, which the global climate forum must address when it meets next week in Katowice, Poland.
The two-week long Conference of Parties (CoP), that will begin on December 2, is slated to give final shape to the Paris Climate Change Pact’s rulebook. But the CoP will need to buck a lot of developments after the 2015 Paris summit if it is to arrive at a consensus on the finer points of the landmark accord. The global climate forum did show remarkable solidarity in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the Paris Pact. But other than that, it has been business-as-usual with longstanding disagreements between the developed and developing countries threatening to come in the way of framing a balanced rulebook for the Paris Pact. At Bangkok, in September, at a run-up meeting to the Katowice Summit, negotiators could not even agree on “how developed countries should report on their contribution to climate finance,” and “where to include the sensitive issue of loss and damage in the rulebook”.
The need to resolve the two knottiest issues of climate negotiations should acquire urgency in the wake of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, that was released in October, revealed that the Paris Pact’s target of keeping the increase in global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is inadequate to stave off “catastrophic” climate change. It threw light on the urgency for making people in most vulnerable nations — Vanatu, for example — resilient to climate change. That will require the creation of robust mechanisms for climate financing and reporting loss and damage. The Katowice deliberations must be driven by the recognition that time is running out to build such mechanisms.UNFCCC summit must heed the frustration of countries that are most vulnerable to climate change