Policy Approaches to Loss and Damage


The recent flash flood, as a sudden onset disaster caused a huge loss of crops, which ultimately caused damage to lives and livelihoods of millions of people, in particular in haor areas in Bangladesh.
The incident of loss of crops possess a further challenge for food security in Bangladesh since hoar basin produces significant amount of rice for Bangladesh. Moreover, the slow onset process of flash flood also caused huge damage to ecology and biodiversity; and some experts immediately identified huge loss of fish and other aquatic resources.
This brief article does not use any data and information due to the absence of appropriate tools and methodology for assessment of damage in Bangladesh. Instead, the article provides a policy analysis based on the understanding of the nature of loss and damage caused by the recent flash flood.
At the outset, it is important to identify linkages between climate change and the indent of the recent flash flood. Climate change and its impacts are the reality now beyond any scientific disputes and community perceptions.
However, scientific attribution for a particular indent like the recent flash flood in Bangladesh and associated loss and damage still remain a challenge for global scientific community. In absence of enough scientific evidences, it might not be considered as climate induced flash flood, but early flash flood provides an analogy for climatic variability, with clear scientific arguments and evidences.

Nevertheless, while attribution science is advancing, it is important at this stage to understand the nature of such kind of loss and damage resulting from the incidents of flash floods and to design the governance structures to deal with it. Firstly, the loss of crops, resulted from the flash flood can be quantified economically and also compensation can be determined for the victims within the purview of disaster management policy in Bangladesh. But the challenges persist with non-economic loss and damages are associated with loss of crops, including damage to food security, damage to health — particularly of women and children, damage to education, migration and damage to social coherence and resilience, loss of values, cultures, and son on. These sort of non-economic loss and damage require a specific set of tools and methodologies to assess and to quantify for compensation. Currently neither global community nor Bangladesh government adopted and approved such tools and methodologies. Secondly, the nature of loss and damage to environment and ecology, biology, and biodiversity caused from the flash flood demands a different set of tools and methodologies to assess and to take compensation and corrective measures. So, loss of fishes and other aquatic species and damage to water quality and ecology resulted from the flash flood need to be assessed with right set of tools to identify the right set of corrective measures along with compensation. The environment regulatory regime in Bangladesh provides the scope for addressing environmental damage through administrative and judicial forums. But the detail outlines of assessing environmental damage and to determine the right set of approaches is still absent in environmental policy regime in Bangladesh. At the same time, the technical and human capacity are also absent in Bangladesh for addressing environmental harm. Thirdly, loss and damage, resulted from flash flood demands a unique financial mechanism, which will facilitate the emergency response, compensation and corrective measures including rehabilitation. At the same time,  the pro-active approaches to loss and damage, including early warning system, risk management, risk reduction, risk retention; and risk demand a financial support in a structured mannered. Currently, financial mechanisms, exist in Bangladesh related to disaster. Environment and climate change are not adequately structured and mandated to facilitate pro-active and re-active responses to loss and damage resulted from flash flood. In particular, Climate Change Trust Fund, operates in Bangladesh with domestic resources, can develop a separate financial wing to facilitate loss and damage resulting from disasters and slow on set processes. This separate financial wing, of the trust fund can mobilise financial resources from global funds related to disaster and climate change. Fourthly, while negotiations on loss and damage associated with climate change impacts are taking place within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) policy regime, loss and damage resulting from inter alia climate change impacts is evident at the local level. Hence, the issue of loss and damage must be incorporated into existing national institutional and financial arrangements on climate change, disaster, and environment in Bangladesh. The parties of UNFCCC at COP 18 (Bangladesh is also a party) agreed for strengthening institutional arrangements and enhancing capacity building at the national levels to address loss and damage associated from climate change (decision 3/CP.18). Current institutional and financial arrangements related to environment, disaster, and climate change exist in Bangladesh and  that provide limited scopes to address loss and damage associated with climate change. In conclusion, existing institutions can be strengthened to address loss and damage, but the limitations identified in the existing framework suggest that a specific institution/mechanism should be established in Bangladesh in order to provide oversight and guidance to all relevant sector institutions to deal with loss and damage. The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on loss and damage under UNFCCC is evolving along with structures and functions, generating knowledge and information and providing guidance to take initiative at the national level. So, the government of Bangladesh can develop national mechanisms to address loss and damage with clear linkages and synergies with the WIM which could also provide bottom-up support to structuring the WIM to address loss and damage at international level.

Covid-19 and the future of climate policy


This crisis is the perfect opportunity to begin taking climate science seriously

In 1968, Garrett Hardin, a biology professor at the University of California wrote an essay where he introduced the idea of ‘tragedy of the commons’– a metaphor for the problems of excessive use and degradation of natural resources.

Like many other discourses, the term has also received wide attention from the discourse of international environmental law.  Its practical meaning can be explained by an example. For instance, although no state has individual control over the high sea, all states have right on fisheries resources of the high sea. Logically, all states should also have responsibilities to take care of them.

But sadly, like most human beings, most states of the world are more prone to enjoying rights than acting on the responsibilities. As a result, fisheries resources of the high seas are facing serious threats that can be compared with the notion of the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Similarly, ‘tragedy of the commons’ happens when all countries are busy with degrading natural resources without thinking about the Earth’s climate – which is widely acknowledged as a ‘common concern of humankind.’

In a different sense, the world recently experienced another kind of ‘tragedy of the commons’ in terms of the quick spread of Covid-19 across the world. This is true for both macro and micro level scenarios. At the micro-level, when the world came to know about the existence of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan of China, all states should have taken joint effort to stop the spreading of the disease to other countries (at least for the sake of their own safety). This is because once a pandemic happens, it becomes a ‘common threat’ to all states and preventing or dealing with this ‘common threat’ is only possible through united or joint efforts of all countries.

In case of Covid-19, necessity of united efforts was needed more than anytime before, since the world stands at the peak of globalisation and any contagious disease can spread all over the world even faster than our imagination.

Unfortunately, at macro level, all states of the world combinedly missed this opportunity. Almost all countries (except for a few handful) could not isolate themselves at the right time, as such could not prevent mass level contagion.

At the micro level, within states, it was a duty of the citizens and residents to isolate themselves and follow health rules in a manner that prevented them from catching Covid-19. Likewise, the states, citizens of the states also failed to isolate themselves in time and follow appropriate health rules.

In many cases, the public even broke government-imposed lockdowns. Hence, most states and their citizens led themselves towards a kind of ‘tragedy of the commons’. It is understandable that those who earn their livelihoods by day labour or those who do not have enough savings to make ends meet during the lockdown period have enough reasons for not following health rules.

But it has also been observed that in many countries people broke lockdown just for the sake of observing social or religious festivals. People all over the world even did not mind going to sea beaches while they were supposed to stay at home.

However, even during people’s disobedience to health rules and states’ failure to prevent the pandemic by taking the due steps in due time, one silver lining is that most states and policymakers eventually started acting according to guidelines given by the scientists and concerned experts.

This is what we can consider as a positive outcome of this pandemic. It seems like the relation between science and policy has reached a crossroad, as German Federal Environment Minister recently (during the Petersburg Climate Dialogue XI in April) stated that “We are learning to listen to the scientists.”

In view of the above circumstances, scientists and researchers all over the world expect that at the time of sketching post Covid-19 world scenarios, policymakers will also take climate experts’ recommendations into account.

This is because it is the most suitable time to fully initiate a climate-friendly world.  For instance, during this period of lockdown or emergencies, countries can focus on setting up an improved internet network, based on which post Covid-19 world will allow more people to work from home.

If many people stay at home and do not need to go outside for work, it will eventually result in a decrease of carbon footprint of many populations. In this regard, to promote the work from home concept on a wider scale, countries should also make proper plans about how to promote virtual meetings.

Further, it is time for countries to raise fossil-fuel taxes and decrease taxes for renewable energy. Countries can also think of introducing electric vehicles and installing electric vehicle charging networks on a wide scale.

Such efforts of building a climate-friendly world can be further complemented by countries’ efforts of expanding cleaner public transport, meaning expanding renewable energy run public vehicles like bus, train, steamer, etc. Besides, it is time for countries to plan for building climate-resilient infrastructures. It means countries should adopt ‘green architecture’ policy for its future infrastructures.

Finally, in this period of emergency, countries should think about planting more and more trees. Especially coastal countries should think about planting more trees in the coastal zone and building strong ‘green belts,’ which will protect them from tidal surge and catastrophic cyclones.

Policymakers of Bangladesh may also think about implementing the above recommendations, where needed. This is because, like the impact of Covid-19, adverse effects of climate change have already been evident and policymakers can save the future Earth from any form of ‘tragedy of the commons’ only through paying due attention towards what scientists and researchers recommend.