A Band-Aid for Climate Change Negotiations

By Rosaly Byrd.

A year ago at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 18 in Doha, delegates from around the world attended the conference with hopes that the U.S. would be more willing to negotiate after having recently suffered the destruction of Hurricane Sandy on the northeast. Then, a few days after the negotiations had begun, delegates from the Philippines also urged their international colleagues to act, after Typhoon Bopha had left over 1000 fatalities in their country.

Tragically, this year’s COP in Poland was again opened with emotional pleas from Filipino delegates urging the world to act as Super Typhoon Haiyan left the island nation in immense devastation.  With 10,000 people dead in the city of Tacloban alone, a recent UN decision (separate from the UNFCCC) seeks to provide $300 million to help the people of the Philippines.

Last year at COP18 many vulnerable and poor countries demanded that damage assistance be included in an international climate treaty to compensate for future destruction. And although the United States is very resistant of providing this help, we already see a type of damage assistance in the UN’s recent announcement of the 300 million dollars to the Philippines.

I do believe that it is completely vital to help vulnerable countries after such destruction, especially in situations that are often seen as the result of high-income countries’ actions. But I believe that in simply guaranteeing compensation for climate change implications we are ultimately missing the point.  It’s not that I agree with the U.S. in not wanting to pay this compensation, far from that. In agreeing to provide damage assistance and compensation for the future, instead of fighting the root cause, we are essentially just putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, on an injury that requires rehabilitation. With climate change, super storms like Haiyan are more likely; more destruction from natural disasters is likely to continue.  By depending on damage assistance, we are saying it’s OK to let tens of thousands of vulnerable people suffer as long as we simply offer 300 million dollars afterwards to compensate for their physical, mental and economic suffering, even though we could have prevented or at least limited it in the first place.  Climate change aid without mitigation and adaptation efforts is aid in vain.

And although I trust that the Philippines is very grateful for whatever financial aid the UN will provide to help their population cope and recover, Filipino delegates to the UNFCCC as well as Filipino citizens themselves, want more. They want to see an agreement that gets at the root cause. They want rehabilitation, not the Band-Aid. They want reduction in emissions and the slowing of climate change. They didn’t want compensation in exchange for a super storm. Filipino delegate Yeb Saño said it himself at the conference on Monday that “[we] refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a way of life”. But these vulnerable countries are beginning to lose faith in a global agreement that could slow climate change, and instead are putting their trust in damage assistance.

As Yeb Saño begins his fasting as a form of protest at COP19, international delegates will attempt to form agreements ranging from adaptation finance, damage assistance, and mitigation efforts.  And many people feel that if the U.S. is not politically able to come up with an agreement on emission reductions soon, they should at least agree in providing damage assistance. But while the United States may find it costly to reduce its emissions, it will be much more costly in the long run, not only economically but also emotionally, to continuously cover up these gaping wounds with tiny Band-Aids.

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