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Loss and damage

Is India responsible for loss and damage?

Author: Rishabh Jain

As loss and damage takes centre stage at COP27, India finds itself in a tricky position as both a developing economy negatively affected by climate change and a significant emitter of greenhouse gasses.

© Ravi teja Sagam

At COP27, many nations with developing economies, particularly small island governments, have demanded compensation for the losses they incur as a result of climate disasters, claiming that even while their own contribution to global warming has been minimal, they have been the most severely affected.

The majority of developing nations, including India, endorsed this demand.

On behalf of small island nations, Mr. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, demanded that India and China, as two large emitters of greenhouse gasses, should be made liable and pay climate reparations.

While both countries agreed to help small island countries in some ways, they believe that the onus should lie on industrialsed nations.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at the Climate Action Network, a civil society organisation, believes that while India's acceptance of portions of the demand is significant, it nonetheless should not be held responsible.

"It is necessary to understand that India is also a victim of emissions from rich nations," he told FairPlanet, "and we are also dealing with disasters, paying to manage them effectively, while at the same time helping others."

Dr Ravindra Kumar, professor of environmental health at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), echoed Singh’s comment. He said, "India is a victim of the emissions of industrialised countries, and it is conscious of the necessity of loss and damage aid."

While China initially agreed to support the mechanism of loss and damage, its climate envoy Xie Zhenhua later clarified that the help won’t involve contributing cash.

Xie said that China was under no obligation to take part, but emphasised his support of those advocating for more robust action on the issue from wealthy countries and described the harm that climate-related weather extremes had caused to China.

In such a scenario it becomes necessary to understand the true meaning of loss and damage and the challenges of implementing reparatory policies.

What is loss and damage?

According to Singh of the Climate Action Network, loss and damage refers to expenses that wealthy industrialised nations should pay to poorer countries that have contributed very little to pollution.

The argument is that the more developed economies are responsible for the majority of emissions released into the atmosphere since the onset of the industrial revolution, while such human-caused climate change created impacts that developing countries are vulnerable to. 

"Rich countries have fought the request for climate damage financing made by the vulnerable nations for decades," Singh said. "It is challenging to quantify and evaluate harm brought on just by climate change."

He further added that last year the Indian government partnered with 24 other developing nations to petition affluent nations to pay the promised USD $100 billion as per the "polluter pays" principle, but nothing significant came of it.

Since COP26, the country has faced back-to-back natural disasters, and 95 percent of India's coastline districts are regarded as extreme-level hotspots for climate risks.

However, this is not the first time talks on developing a fund like ‘loss and damage’ are underway. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international accord from 1994, recognised that various countries have varied responsibilities in the battle against climate change.

Later on, the Standing Committee on Finance was established at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico in order to support COP in carrying out its duties in connection to the Convention's financial mechanism.

The work programme on long-term finance, which was introduced at COP17 and extended for an additional year at COP18, came to a close at COP19 in Warsaw. COP19's resolution included efforts on long-term climate funding for the period between 2014 and 2020. These include in-session workshops to facilitate discussions on long-term climate finance, biennial high level ministerial dialogues on climate finance starting in 2014 and biennial submissions by industrialised country parties on their strategies and approaches for scaling up climate finance from 2014 to 2020.

Wealthy nations fell USD $100 billion short, derailing the global efforts on climate change, according to a 2022 report by OECD. The report highlighted the contrast between pledges made at COP and the scale of implementation on the ground.

© Dibakar Roy

Adhering to Promises

During the inaugural address of COP27, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said, "The litmus test of this and every future COP is how far deliberations are accompanied by action." 

He went on, "Everybody, every single day, everywhere in the world, needs to do everything they possibly can to avert the climate crisis."

But Dr Kumar of PGIMER believes that implementation of resolutions is the most challenging part.

Aiming to emphasise India’s commitments to the promises made at COP27, Bhupendra Yadav, the Union Minster for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, submitted the Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LT LEDS) to UNFCCC. With this, India joins the list of fewer than 60 parties who have submitted their LT LEDS.

For transportation, the document emphasises the growing usage of biofuels, particularly the blending of ethanol with gasoline. The emission strategy also includes maximising the use of green hydrogen fuel to advance the growth of the transportation industry with a low carbon footprint.

"India aspires to maximise the use of electric vehicles, ethanol blending to reach 20 per cent by 2025 and a strong modal shift to public transport for passenger and freight," the emission strategy underlined.

On the subject of urban design adaptation, the document added that urbanisation will continue to be a strong trend in the country. Yet it mentioned that future sustainable and climate resilient urban development will be driven by smart city initiatives, integrated city planning for mainstreaming adaptation and enhancing energy and resource efficiency, effective green building codes and swift advancements in innovative solid and liquid waste management.

Image by Dibakar Roy