"Loss and Damage": U.S. Stymies Push for Compensation for Climate Devastation at U.N. Climate Summit

December 08, 2015


Nitin Sethi

senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India. His recent piece is called "US and EU want Loss and Damage as a toothless tiger in Paris agreement."

On Monday, the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said world leaders must prevent the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the countries most impacted by climate change—but who did little to cause it—are also calling for the U.N. climate agreement to include compensation for adjusting to climate change, known as "Loss and Damage." But documents obtained by our guest reveal the United States is pushing these countries to forgo such rights. Nitin Sethi is senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India. His recent piece is called "US and EU want Loss and Damage as a toothless tiger in Paris agreement."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Le Bourget, Paris, France, from the COP21, the U.N. climate summit. We’re here for the full two weeks. We end today’s show with an update in the negotiations taking place here at the summit. On Monday, the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said world leaders must prevent the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

PRIME MINISTER ENELE SOPOAGA: At the current warming, my country, Tuvalu, and many others like us in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, our future is already bleak. We must urgently cut greenhouse gases and dramatically transform the global economy to a renewable energy pathway. Any further temperature increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius will spell—will spell the total demise of Tuvalu and other low-lying and island nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is Nitin Sethi, senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India. His recent piece is called "US and EU want Loss and Damage as a toothless tiger in Paris agreement." "Toothless tiger," Nitin, what exactly do you mean? You got a hold of documents that most people haven’t seen.

NITIN SETHI: Loss and damage, as an issue, refers to a couple of things. One, primarily, it’s been about that if you cannot adapt to inevitable climate change, what do countries do? They will suffer loss and damage. And will they be able to seek compensation? Will they be able to claim liability cases against countries which have not cut their emissions enough? Now, in this case, the U.S., particularly, on the Umbrella Group, and then supported by EU, they’ve come back and said, "We want to make sure that in Paris you actually forgo all your compensation rights in the future," saying, "You must explicitly say that you shall never, ever ask for compensation hereafter the"—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. So they’re saying you can use the words "loss and damage."


AMY GOODMAN: The United States is saying.


AMY GOODMAN: But only if you agree that you don’t get compensation.

NITIN SETHI: Absolutely. Now, that really means loss and damage is only a notional idea at the end of the day. You’re looking at risk insurance at the best of the times that might comfort some countries, but the poor countries can’t afford insurance because the premiums are going to be so high. So consider the fact that if you have sea level change, no insurance company is going to ensure you against sea level rise, because it’s almost a certainty. The risk levels are so high. The premiums are going to be so high, the poor countries can’t afford it. So the only option they had in the long run was some hope that you would be compensated, in different ways, and there could be liability charges, where if the countries haven’t cut their emissions enough, which causes the climate change, they should be paying for it. Now, U.S. is saying, "We want to cut this off right away. We should never have a conversation about it hereafter."

AMY GOODMAN: So, I think it’s framed in the United States as a kind of—should the U.S. be charitable for those who are less able to take care of themselves in other parts of the world?

NITIN SETHI: Well, I don’t think it’s about charity. You’re paying compensation for the damage you’ve caused to your neighbor, in some sense. You break somebody’s fence, you set it upright. This is when you’re destroying lives of people, you’re paying them compensation for the fact that they will never be able to live in their homelands, perhaps, thereafter. This is not charity. This is a completely different ballgame.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are these documents that you’ve gotten?

NITIN SETHI: Well, the document is an offer that the U.S. made informally to the G77 and other developing country groups, saying, "This is loss and damage. I agree to this. But if you have this explicit one sentence saying you shall forgo all rights to compensation and lability."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, President Obama met with small island nation presidents.

NITIN SETHI: Mm-hmm, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: This is—is this actually what he was telling them? We got the word he said, "I’m an island boy myself, right, grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia."

NITIN SETHI: Absolutely. Well, as per all countries, I think there’s a big degree of game that they all play, a theatric that they play. If you look at what happened after President Obama met these few countries—say, Marshall Islands, Saint Lucia and others—each of them came out saying, "Well, we’re working with the U.S. for a language which is convenient to the U.S." Now, that actually signifies that there’s a break even amongst what’s called the Association of Small Island States, which is comprised of Caribbean island states, those in the Pacific, those in the Indian Ocean and the African region. The Association of the Island States are cracking away under the pressure from U.S. We’ve seen the Caribbean islands move away. In fact, we hear now that even Tuvalu is saying, "Maybe we can live with the fact that we’ll not have compensation." This has happened just about an hour ago, where Tuvalu, behind closed doors, said, "We can look for language that, you know, kind of makes you happy. Just don’t say it so loudly. Say it in a polite fashion that we have a face saver at the end of the day."

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about U.N. censorship. What is that?

NITIN SETHI: Sorry. Could you say that again?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about U.N. censorship? What I mean is, we spoke to Yeb Saño the other day. Now he is a pilgrim who walked from Rome here to Paris, but he’s not the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines, as he was. He was pulled right before Lima, Peru, the last COP.

NITIN SETHI: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens to climate negotiators who speak out?

NITIN SETHI: I mean, if you remember, you can go back to Copenhagen, where you had Di-Aping Lumumba from Sudan. If you remember, he was the first one to talk about issues of apartheid, the way developing countries were being treated. We never saw him back in the negotiations thereafter. It’s happened to Yeb Saño two years ago, because he fought really hard to get loss and damage in when nobody else was standing up for it. He disappeared. In fact, so far, the Philippines had to walk away. Philippines was forced to move away from the like-minded developing countries, because they were pretty strong. Now Philippines is part of the vulnerable countries group, where they actually don’t have a stand on loss and damage anymore. This year, again, if you remember, a few days ago, the G77 chair, Ambassador Diseko from South Africa, she actually on the court said, "My country is getting phone calls saying take certain negotiators out of the talking rooms because they’re being hardliners." And we’ve seen one of the key negotiators for the G77 group was Juan Hoffmaister from Bolivia, and he’s nowhere in the room anymore. And he’s the key guy on loss and damage and adaptation.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s taking him out? Who’s taking all these people out?

NITIN SETHI: Well, nobody said who’s taking them out. But you clearly know in whose favor it is if you take these guys out. It’s primarily the U.S. and other developed countries. They’re the only ones who make this call to say these specific guys should be removed. And this is not the first time it’s happened. If you remember Bernarditas Muller from Philippines, she doesn’t come from the Philippines badge anymore. Again, Philippines being under pressure not to have these people who know the convention, who know the rules, who know the history of these negotiations.

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