Powerful hurricanes to fuel demands from island nations at climate talks

Published: 4:00 AM, September 12, 2017

WASHINGTON/OSLO — Devastation from Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean will sharpen the demands from small island nations that top fossil-fuel consumers help them cope with damage attributable to climate change, according to representatives of some of those countries.

That will put island nations on a collision course with the United States and other rich countries during United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, in November.

The US, under President Donald Trump, has expressed doubts about global warming and has vowed to withdraw from a global pact to fight it, while other wealthy nations have long resisted calls to pay for climate-related “loss and damage” abroad.

“If ever there was a case for loss and damage, this is it,” Mr Ronny Jumeau, UN ambassador from Indian Ocean island nation the Seychelles, told Reuters, referring to Irma and other recent storms.

The Seychelles is a member of the UN negotiating bloc Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis).

“Hurricane Irma graphically shows the destructive power of climate change and underscores that loss and damage isn’t some abstract concept, but the reality of life today for the people who contributed least to the problem,” said Mr Thoriq Ibrahim, Maldives’ environment minister who chairs Aosis. Singapore is also a member of the negotiating group.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, whose country will host the Bonn talks from Nov 6 to 17, has said the issue of who pays for “loss and damage” from climate-related disasters will be a key priority at the meeting.

Irma barrelled into Florida on Sunday, sparking one of the largest evacuations in US history, after levelling several Caribbean islands. Last month, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, triggering record flooding that killed around 60 people.

Ministers from island nations will point to the back-to-back storms to pressure negotiators at Bonn to agree to details of a mechanism for addressing loss and damage from extreme weather as well as slower changes such as sea level rises and desertification.

Loss and damage has been a contentious issue in climate negotiations for years, pitting rich countries against poor. Governments first approved a UN “loss and damage mechanism” in Warsaw in 2013 and reaffirmed it in the 2015 Paris Agreement. But it is unclear exactly what it would cover, who would pay, and how much it would cost. REUTERS