Publication Alternatives to Society - Socio-ecological Transformation - Climate Justice - COP27 - COP 25 - COP 24 en - COP 23 - COP 22 [en] Climate Damage

The world is drowning – and no one wants to pay





Juliane Schumacher,


November 2018

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The party is over …

On 12 December 2015 at 7.26 pm cheering erupted at Le Bourget convention centre in Paris. Thousands of people hugged, posed for photos and clapped for several minutes on end. After two weeks of dramatic negotiations, the plenary session of the Climate Change Conference had adopted a new climate agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced, "It’s a victory for all of the planet and for future generations," while the Secretary-General of the United Nations promised, "History will remember this day." And French President François Hollande declared, "In Paris, there have been many revolutions over the centuries. Today it is the most beautiful and the most peaceful revolution that has just been accomplished – a revolution for climate change."

Just under a year later, the next Climate Change Conference was held in Marrakech, Morocco. A few daysbefore it started, on 4 November 2016, the Paris Agreement entered into force, having been signed by the requisite number of states. However, early on in the conference something happened to put a damper on the mood of optimism: news broke that Donald Trump had been elected president of the USA. It came as a shock for many delegates and climate activists. Trump had repeatedly denied the existence of climate change and announced that if he won the election, the USA would pull out of the Paris Agreement.

In 2017, the USA did indeed announce its withdrawal from the treaty – but because this cannot happen for a few years, it is continuing to take part in negotiations for the time being. The concern that other countries might follow suit has so far proved unfounded. However, there is stil  uncertainty: can climate policy succeed if the USA – the world’s second largest polluter – is not on board?

With all eyes on the US president’s erratic decisions, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that other urgent questions are looming for climate policy: the question, for instance, of how we can bridge the gap between the agreed target – lowering greenhouse gas emissions – and actual developments, which show that emissions are continuing to rise. At the same time, climate change has become harder to ignore over the past few years and months. Heavy tropical storms, extreme rainfall and summer heatwaves show that climate change is not a distant future scenario but something that requires adaptation measures to be taken now. We need to negotiate how this adaptation can be carried out successfully – and who will pay for it. Where will the EUR 100 billion come from – the sum that, according to the Paris Agreement, is to be available each year from 2020 onwards so that all countries, not just wealthy nations, can protect themselves and their inhabitants against the impacts of climate change? And finally, there is the question of what to do about the damage caused by anthropogenic climate change. The climate change impacts that are already noticeable provide a taster of the changes and losses that global warming will bring. Climate protection measures, however ambitious, will not be able to prevent basic natural, social and cultural resources from being irretrievably lost. Neither will they stop swathes of land or entire island states from sinking into 3 the sea, or coral reefs from dying off, or prevent the salinization and drying out of arable land. Discussions have been running for several years now under the heading ‘loss and damage’ to decide who can be held accountable. The Paris Agreement is the first climate change agreement to include a separate article on loss and damage. It is a success for those most closely affected by rising sea levels, storms and droughts – and an incentive to examine the concept more closely. It has been clear for some time that global warming can no longer be held in check and that humanity will have to find a way of dealing with the consequences. However, the ‘loss and damage’ concept also contains a question that is central to any climate policy: what is the point of a fair climate policy if those who have contributed the least to global warming suffer the most from its impacts?


  • Introduction: The party is over ...
  • Negotiations: The status of climate policy after Paris
  • Vulnerabilities: who is (most) affected?
  • Losses: that which can(not) be fixed
  • Treaties: loss and damage in the Paris Agreement
  • Responsibility and insurance
  • Outlook: Beyond loss and damage
  • References

More in the pdf.