The Politics of (and Behind) the UNFCCC’s Loss and Damage Mechanism

Despite being one of the most controversial issues to be recently treated within climate negotiations, Loss and Damage (L&D) has attracted little attention among scholars of International Relations (IR). In this chapter we take the “structuralist paradox” in L&D negotiations as our starting point, considering how IR theories can help to explain the somewhat surprising capacity of weak parties to achieve results while negotiating with stronger parties. We adopt a multi-faceted notion of power, drawing from the neorealist, liberal and constructivist schools of thought, in order to explain how L&D milestones were reached. Our analysis shows that the IR discipline can greatly contribute to the debate, not only by enhancing understanding of the negotiation process and related outcomes but also by offering insights on how the issue could be fruitfully moved forward. In particular, we note the key importance that discursive power had in the attainment of L&D milestones: Framing L&D in ethical and legal terms appealed to standards relevant beyond the UNFCCC context, including basic moral norms linked to island states’ narratives of survival and the reference to international customary law. These broader standards are in principle recognised by both contending parties and this broader framing of L&D has helped to prove the need for action on L&D. However, we find that a change of narrative may be needed to avoid turning the issue into a win-lose negotiation game. Instead, a stronger emphasis on mutual gains through adaptation and action on L&D for both developed and developing countries is needed as well as clarity on the limits of these strategies. Examples of such mutual gains are more resilient global supply chains, reduction of climate-induced migration and enhanced security. As a result, acting on L&D would not feel as a unilateral concession developed countries make to vulnerable ones: it would rather be about elaborating patterns of collective action on an issue of common concern.

Associated spaces

Something wrong with this information? Report errors here.