WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of 120 environment and development groups delivered an open letter to ministers at U.N. climate talks on Tuesday, urging the establishment of an international mechanism on climate-induced loss and damage in Warsaw, as some rich nations continued to block the step.
A lack of international ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions and low levels of climate finance mean that vulnerable communities, ecosystems and countries "face increasing loss and damage due to climate change impacts on an unprecedented scale", the letter said. "An international mechanism on loss and damage is not an option - it is a necessity," it added.
Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation with the charity ActionAid, said Australia, Canada and Japan were blocking any kind of progress. The United States, Norway and the European Union were engaging in the negotiations, but were trying to water down the joint proposal from more than 130 developing countries to establish an international mechanism, he said.
"We want these ministers to take a much more positive outlook, and engage constructively so that we have a mechanism before we leave Warsaw," Singh said.
Ministers representing the 194 countries at the talks are expected to take over the issue from their negotiators in the next day or so, with the conference due to end on Friday.
The question of whether to establish a new global mechanism is controversial, because richer nations fear it could be used to make them pay compensation for the consequences of their planet-warming emissions to poorer countries suffering the worst impacts of more extreme weather and rising seas.
After fierce wrangling in Doha last year, it was agreed the 2013 climate conference in Poland would "establish...institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism...to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change".
In Warsaw, the United States and the EU have argued that a loss and damage taskforce or some other kind of body could be set up under the existing U.N. Adaptation Committee, and does not need a separate workstream. But developing countries and civil society groups insist a separate mechanism is required because there are some impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided, even if countries do their best to adapt.
Sven Harmeling from CARE International said these included extreme weather events, such as the super typhoon that hit the Philippines on Nov. 8 affecting nearly 13 million people, as well as longer-term effects that could see people displaced from their countries by rising seas or farmland that can no longer be used to grow crops as it becomes too salty.
"It's also about losing cultural heritage and biodiversity," he said. "Unfortunately we are beyond the point where we can sort everything just with mitigation and adaptation, and that's why we think we are already in the third era of climate change - which is loss and damage."
There was a need to act on the issue to avoid instability and development setbacks in vulnerable, developing countries, he added.
Bangladesh government representative, Abdul Karim, former principal secretary and managing director of micro-credit provider PKSF, told journalists his country - which is vulnerable to sea-level rise, storms and flooding - was looking for international assistance to the tune of $10 billion in the coming five years to help it cope with climate change, even while it was spending its own money.
"Loss and damage is one of the most critical issues, and the global community has to address it with due seriousness, because in all countries, loss and damage is assuming huge dimensions, as every day goes by," he told journalists.
Costa Rica announced on Tuesday a new action plan for 20 developing countries active in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), which includes cooperative efforts across six sectors, including finance, health, human rights, labour and migration.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum countries also will set up a focus group of finance ministers to concentrate on climate change issues, dubbed the “V20”. “Nature is not waiting for us politicians and diplomats, but coming to a brink. We want to encourage the world to act," said Costa Rica's environment minister René Castro-Salazar.
Speaking later at the climate talks, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told member states they should step up climate finance and emissions reductions, and lay firm foundations for a new global climate deal due to be agreed in 2015. But he declined to say whether a successful outcome in Warsaw should include the establishment of an international mechanism on loss and damage.
Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. climate change secretariat, noted that a mechanism had "been agreed in principle". "What parties are working on here is what the scope of that mechanism is going to be, how is it going to function,, what types of events and damages are going to be included in that," she said.
"We do expect progress, although not the final resolution on the loss and damage mechanism here in Warsaw," she added.