‘Need to measure climate damage in monetary terms’: UN special rapporteur
The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, has said that new taxes on air travel and maritime shipping could raise money needed to compensate countries for “loss and damage” associated with extreme climate events. Loss and damage refers to the impacts of both extreme events such super cyclones, and slow onset events such as sea level rise. Vulnerable countries have been asking for these events to be compensated by the highest emitters, and the issue of loss and damage will be discussed at COP26.
In Glasgow, small islands such as Antigua, Barbuda and Tuvalu have agreed to establish a Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law for legal redressal of climate impacts. These developments are important for India, which has decided to support strong rules on loss and damage.
Boyd said an interview to HT that loss and damage should be measured in monetary terms now.
You have proposed levies on air travel and shipping to generate funding for adaptation and loss and damage. What has been the response of UNFCCC to your proposal?
No response thus far, but this is an acid test for the success of COP26 after decades of wealthy nations ducking and delaying.
Why did you zero in on these two sectors and not other industries?
Air travel and shipping are the focus because these are the industries identified in previous proposals for levies put forward by Small Island Developing States. The two industries are major polluters (combined emissions equal to all the emissions by South America), and since their emissions are not counted in national emissions inventories, are largely unregulated. They also largely benefit wealthy people who can afford to pay small levies. These two levies combined could easily raise tens to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Do you think developed countries will accept a polluter pays principle like this?
Yes, because these levies are a new source of climate finance that do not require governments to find the money in their budgets. Also, there is huge pressure to boost climate finance to address the rapidly escalating impacts of the climate crisis.
What exactly is the provision of loss and damage?
Loss and damage refers to the economic costs of damage inflicted by climate disasters as well as the non-economic damages like pain and suffering. To use a concrete example, the small Caribbean nation of Dominica has been hit by two Category 5 hurricanes in recent years, damaging over 90% of buildings, wrecking infrastructure, and inflicting costs larger than the whole country’s annual GDP. The people of Dominica are not responsible for the climate crisis but are on the front lines of adverse impacts of climate chaos. It is unjust to expect them to pay for the repairs and rebuilding. On the other hand, it is just for the wealthy nations who caused the crisis to pay for the loss and damage.
Do you think there will be progress on loss and damage during cop 26? What are your expectations?
Progress is vital but must be measured in billions of dollars this year and next, not just processes and future promises. Climate vulnerable countries have been waiting for almost thirty years for loss and damage funding to flow from North to South.
What are the various legal means that vulnerable countries can access to claim losses?
At present there are none. No vulnerable nation has been compensated for the loss and damage they have already suffered.
Has climate attribution science made it easier to claim legal damage?
The improving precision of climate attribution increases the probability that the major polluters, both nations and corporations, will be held liable one day for their outsized contributions to the climate crisis, just as increased attribution of respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer to smoking resulted in tobacco companies eventually being held liable.