Loss and damage issues key for South-east Asia, to be at the heart of COP27 discussions

Countries in South-east Asia have in recent months endured a spate of extreme weather events. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - With extreme weather events pummelling South-east Asia in recent months, observers are looking to leaders gathering at the COP27 United Nations climate change conference in November to hammer out a deal that will see the region being compensated for the losses and damage incurred.

Mr Yeb Sano, executive director of environmental group Greenpeace South-east Asia, told The Straits Times that the establishment of a "loss and damage" finance facility is key if the annual summit is to be considered a success.

"(Such a facility) is important because many vulnerable developing nations do not have enough resources to cope with these climate impacts, have little capacity to deal with catastrophic disasters and, in the first place, had little responsibility for the climate crisis," said Mr Sano, a former climate negotiator for the Philippines.

Loss and damage is a term used in climate negotiations that refers to the irreversible consequences of climate change - such as sea-level rise - that cannot be, or have not been, reduced by current adaptation efforts. Such efforts could include sea walls, for example.

Countries in South-east Asia have in recent months endured a spate of extreme weather events.

Early this year, heavy flash floods in Malaysia resulted in RM6.1 billion (S$1.9 billion) in losses due to infrastructural damage. Last year's massive Typhoon Rai, which struck the Philippines, is estimated to cost around 28.6 billion pesos (S$709.2 million) in agricultural losses and damage to homes, roads, electricity and water supply.

According to the International Monetary Fund, developing countries may find it hard to adapt to climate change impacts due to the lack of funding or institutional capacity, such as having the relevant expertise. Poorer countries also have to prioritise developmental needs, which often come at the expense of long-term plans to adapt to climate change impacts.

However, many rich countries often do not want to accept liability for the climate impacts faced by vulnerable nations, making the issue of loss and damage a controversial one, Dr Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, told reporters during a seminar held by Reuters Institute's Oxford Climate Journalism Network in March.

Other issues include the challenges in assigning blame for particular events .

For instance, a flooding event may destroy infrastructure, but some may argue that these buildings are not designed to withstand such events in the first place - even before the climate change impacts are at play.

This issue of how developing countries can be compensated for the losses and damage they have endured due to the historical emissions from the world's largest emitters - including the United States and Europe - is expected to be discussed during COP27. The conference will be held at the seaside town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from Nov 6 to 18.

Ms Melissa Low, a climate policy observer at the National University of Singapore's Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, said that the establishment of such a finance facility could benefit more than just the nation being compensated for losses and damage.

This is especially since Thailand, for instance, is the region's rice bowl, accounting for a quarter of the world's global trade of rice, while Indonesia's agro-forestry sector exports paper products and palm oil all over the world.

Extreme weather events - which climate scientists have warned could become more intense with every degree of warming - could affect agricultural crop yield, leading to economic losses and damage.

Ms Low noted that the Philippines' Department of Finance has estimated losses and damage to be at around US$10 billion due to climate-related hazards from 2010 to 2020.

This underscores the country's extreme vulnerability to the climate crisis despite contributing only 0.3 per cent of the planet's total greenhouse gas emissions, said Ms Low, who has research experience in international climate policy and has attended several UN climate conferences.

Mr Sano said: "A loss and damage finance facility that can deliver funding to communities that are already experiencing different kinds of losses and damage due to adverse impacts such as flooding, typhoons, droughts and sea-level rise... will make it easier for (them) to prevent further losses and damage, and allow them to cope and bounce back from shocks that are brought about by such impacts."

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