Lone palm, Daulatkhan, Bhola Island, Bangladesh, (2017), from future Scenarios by Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
Future Scenarios exhibition, Kunst Haus Wien, Museum Hudertwasser, Vienna, Austria, (2019), Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
Future Scenarios film installation, Kunst Haus Wien, Museum Hudertwasser, Vienna, Austria, (2019), Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
By Heidi White, Linda Siegele, Colin McQuistan, Hyacinthe Niyitegeka and members of the Santiago Network Project
08 / 08 / 2023
A survey team from The Pacific Community (SPC) conducting post-tropical cyclone Harold building damage assessment in Kadavu, Fiji, in collaboration with the Fiji Meteorological Department. In April 2020, Tropical Cyclone Harold slammed into the Pacific causing widespread loss and damage across the region. Harold impacted four countries including the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Image credit: The Pacific Community (SPC) / FlickR, licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reports that it is more likely than not (66% chance) that 1.5°C will be surpassed between now and 2027. Meanwhile, the science tells us that risks and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages from climate change escalate with every increment of global warming (IPCC AR6). So far this summer, four climate records have been broken with the hottest day on record, hottest June on record globally, extreme marine heatwaves, and record-low Antarctic sea ice. Extreme weather events like wildfires, cyclones, and floods as well as slow-onset events like sea level rise, desertification and glacial retreat are causing loss of lives and livelihoods, culture and Indigenous knowledge as well as damage to infrastructure, cultural heritage sites and biodiversity.   

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC/Convention), Parties (countries) have established the Warsaw International Mechanism for addressing loss and damage (WIM). To enhance delivery of action and support including finance, technology and capacity-building for addressing loss and damage in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, countries have also established the Santiago network for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage (SNLD). Alongside the WIM Executive Committee and when it is fully operational, the SNLD will contribute to the implementation of the functions of the WIM while also delivering on its own functions that were agreed at COP 26 in Glasgow:
The functions of the Warsaw International Mechanism for addressing loss and damage (WIM), as agreed at COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021.

So where are we now? At COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Parties agreed to the SNLD’s institutional arrangements including its structure comprising an advisory board, hosted secretariat and network of member Organisations, Bodies, Networks and Experts (OBNEs). At the time of writing, the full operationalisation of the SNLD is in a holding pattern, with the host organisation (or consortium of organisations) for the SNLD secretariat not yet selected and members of its advisory board yet to be elected. Parties have agreed that these decisions will be discussed informally in the coming months, to be formally agreed at COP 28 in Dubai (Nov - Dec 2023). 

In all scenarios, the advisory board with the mandate of providing guidance to guide the secretariat can be elected at COP 28 and begin its work in 2024, regardless of who is selected to host the secretariat. However, the UNFCCC secretariat has the responsibility for developing a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the host selected. Given the host has not yet been selected (Parties earlier agreed this would happen at SB 58 in June 2023), it will be crucial that the UNFCCC secretariat and host proponents prepare to move forward as fast as possible to fulfil this mandate once the choice of host is made. An ‘in waiting’ or ‘mock’ MoU could be drafted, for example, to give the best possible chance of Parties getting the hosted secretariat up and running immediately after COP 28. 

While the full operationalisation of the SNLD is pending, and with developing countries in urgent need of support, how can we move forward to provide it? How can we make progress in the interim while respecting the formal approval process agreed by Parties?

At COP 27, Parties reiterated a request made at COP 26, that the UNFCCC secretariat provide support for developing countries that may seek or wish to benefit from technical assistance available from OBNEs as an interim measure until the SNLD secretariat is operational. To date, the WIM ExCom has received reports by OBNEs on the technical assistance they have provided, with support of the UNFCCC secretariat. The secretariat has also: conducted a survey on Parties’ technical assistance needs and started to collate country profile pages; organised a series of workshops to discuss what regional stakeholders see as technical assistance needs, presenting findings from its Latin America and Caribbean Region workshop which will be followed by a report currently being drafted on its Africa and Asia-Pacific regional workshops; received and responded to several country requests for technical assistance; and started building the network of OBNEs

It is important that there is transparency around the SNLD’s interim arrangements so that developing countries can benefit from them. It must also be clear what the limitations of these interim arrangements are, considering that when it is fully operational, the SNLD’s hosted secretariat will elaborate modalities and procedures under the guidance and approval of the advisory board, based on the terms of reference of the SNLD agreed at COP 27. This means developing guidelines and procedures for: the designation of OBNEs as members; responding to requests for technical assistance including those requiring an urgent response; and managing finance provided for technical assistance. At SB 58, Parties also discussed the secretariat (or advisory board) developing guidelines on conflicts of interest, as well as, the advisory board preparing a report on in kind support to the SNLD and taking up issues relating to the SNLD having a broad regional presence.

Without the benefit of these guidelines and procedures, the UNFCCC secretariat nonetheless can operate consistently within the mandate and functions of the SNLD in fulfilling its interim mandate. What this means is that it can deliver a matchmaking function insofar as catalysing technical assistance, i.e. gathering country needs and publicising those needs amongst various OBNEs but without necessarily delivering on the full and final vision that Parties have for a fully operational SNLD that goes beyond matchmaking, ensuring technical assistance is demand-driven, country owned and accompanied by the financial support that may be offered in future through the new secretariat. 

The challenge for the interim secretariat will be how to mobilise technical assistance, when technical assistance nor the process to mobilise it for the OBNEs to provide it have been defined in detail. Two priority activities which would facilitate forward movement, is developing clarity regarding the potential needs for technical assistance and understanding what technical assistance requests may look like. What we hope will be distilled from the initial work of the UNFCCC secretariat is how technical assistance needs differ across regions and national and local contexts, and how this variation can be appropriately addressed. We also hope the different starting points of each country in terms of capacity becomes more clear so that capacity can begin to be built. Regarding OBNEs, while it is important to begin to develop the membership, this should be a gradual process guided in particular by the policies and procedures for the designation of OBNEs and conflicts of interest that will be agreed only once the SNLD is fully operational. 

Whether we are considering the interim arrangements or the SNLD’s full operationalisation, it is clear that more needs to be understood, and much of this understanding likely will come by way of practical experience. One of the ways that Parties ready to do so can build this experience is to take advantage of the fact that they can currently make requests for technical assistance to the UNFCCC secretariat’s interim arrangements. The Republic of Vanuatu is currently planning such a request which meets key technical assistance needs as articulated in the loss and damage section of its revised and enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). It is anticipated that this exercise of preparing a request for technical assistance, which Vanuatu will undertake in a transparent and inclusive manner, will build understanding, not only for Vanuatu, but also more broadly, providing a globally relevant example of how assistance can be requested currently and what the SNLD may be requested to deliver in the future, while leaving the door open for a diversity of technical assistance needs to be addressed. 

What is also clear, is until the SNLD is fully operational, there are limits to how fully technical assistance can be delivered to particularly vulnerable developing country Parties. It will therefore be important to continue to develop the vision of a fully functioning SNLD while interim arrangements are operating to ensure that when the hosted secretariat and advisory board become operational, they are well equipped to deliver on their mandate. Selecting the host organisation is the most crucial next step looking ahead to COP 28. At the same time developing our understanding of what technical assistance is and how it can or should be delivered, especially through country-specific needs assessments, will be especially important to start building a picture of the potential the SNLD has to offer in assisting developing countries to address loss and damage. 

Linda Siegele is an environmental lawyer and independent consultant. She has been involved in the UNFCCC negotiating process since 2005 with a special focus on the issues of adaptation and loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries.

Heidi White is a lawyer and independent consultant. She supports both government and non-government actors to make progress in the UNFCCC negotiations on Loss and Damage with a particular expertise on the Santiago Network.

Colin McQuistan is Head of Climate and Resilience in the Influence and Impact team of Practical Action.

Hyacinthe Niyitegeka is a water scientist and member of the New Generation of young negotiators from developing countries. She coordinates the Loss and Damage Collaboration and works on various advocacy activities with The Green Protector, a youth-led NGO from Rwanda.

Santiago Network Project The authors also wishes to acknowledge the support of other Loss and Damage Collaboration's (L&DC) Santiago Network Project members for helping to developed and edit this blog. The L&DC's Santiago Network Project is specifically focused on contributing to ambitious progress in these negotiations that results in a fit for purpose Santiago Network that delivers on the needs of developing countries.