What is the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage?

by Vincent Diringer

The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM) is a vehicle or work programme that was established by the Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2013 (known as decision 3/CP.18). Named after the host location of the nineteenth COP (COP19), the WIM sets out to address the devastating effects the climate crisis is having on vulnerable developing nations. The effects taken under consideration by the WIM include but are not limited to: frequent severe storm events, extreme weather or slow building impacts of climate change like desertification and sea level rise [1,2]. Issues such as these are especially damaging for communities with less developed economies or that don’t have the ability to adapt to or mitigate them – like Small Island Developing States [3]. 

The scope of considerations for loss and damage under the WIM includes any impact on infrastructure, geophysical features, society, and economic output. As such, this piece of international policy sets out to help countries by sharing best practice, implementing policy that helps promote adaptation and mitigation, while providing opportunities for collaboration between developing and developed nations [1,2]. While, however, the WIM works towards improving global resilience towards the impacts of climate change and ways to help vulnerable nations, it has had some controversy attached to it. 

The WIM’s creation in 2013 made it one of the first formal international policy frameworks that recognized the ongoing damage of climate change, while providing affected communities with a pathway to deal with it [4]. Its goals and purpose, however, can be traced even further back to a 1991 proposal by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The plan put forward by the AOSIS demanded that the international community aid at-risk countries financially through compensation for damage caused by climate change – caused mostly by developed nations’ emissions [3,4].

This financial clause that would determine liability for climate damage has, and continues to be, resisted by developed nations [4]. As a result, the WIM was crafted as a framework, without clear financial outcomes, that seeks to create opportunities to support affected countries, as explained in the COP19 action report. Its three major functions are summarised below [5]:

  1. Enhancing knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches; 
  2. Strengthening dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies among relevant stakeholders; and
  3. Enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, to enable countries to undertake actions [1,2].

Inside the WIM 

The WIM itself is guided by an Executive Committee (ExCom) that oversees research groups, technical support, updating and implementing the work plan as well as ensuring it falls within the goals of the Paris Agreement [6]. They meet twice a year and report on their progress annually. The ExCom is currently in the midst of a five-year rolling work plan that started in 2018 with an eye on enhancing cooperation between nations on five key topics: slow onset events; non-economic losses; comprehensive risk management approaches; human mobility; action and support [6].

An important policy when considering how frequent severe weather events have become amidst the climate crisis, the WIM has been a long time in the making [4]. Officially starting off with initial discussions about loss and damage during the 2007 Bali Action Plan, it was followed by the formation of a Subsidiary Body for Implementation Working Programme in 2010, and further discussions at previous COPs prior to its creation at COP19 [4]. Loss and damage would become an important talking point at subsequent COPs, and was mentioned specifically in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement (COP21), and would lead to  the creation of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage (SNLD) in 2019 at COP25 [7,8]. 

Loss & Damage Outlook

At its inception it was hoped that the WIM would, on top of its current mandate, create a framework for developed nations to financially support developing countries towards their adaptation goals; however, this has never materialised and continues to be a point of contention [9,10,11]. Many major economies have been wary of the wording of the financial section of the policy relating to the financial support to vulnerable countries, and have softened the language in a way that offers flexibility and no guarantees [9]. 

This is exemplified best by the Paris Agreement’s explanation on loss and damage that it did “not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation” for affected nations [10]. This follows a similar decision taken to limit how compensation of loss and damage could be interpreted within Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, and to list loss and damage as a subcategory of adaptation when many wanted it to be recognized as its own major issue [10]. In addition to this, the push by developed nations for the WIM to be ruled using only the provisions set out in the Agreement, rather than the broader scope demanded by at-risk nations, has led to some tensions between countries throughout the economic spectrum [10,11].

Despite the disagreements over language and financing, the WIM provides the beginning of a solution for at-risk developing nations, but also the world at large as they face the compounding damage of the climate crisis [9]. With work still needing to be done on the WIM’s scope, agenda, financial debates and the importance of considering loss and damage in future COPs, there is hope that a more elaborate and comprehensive version of the WIM will emerge following COP26 [8,9]. 


Featured image courtesy of the UNFCCC Flickr Page

[1] UNFCCC, NDL, ‘Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM)’,https://unfccc.int/topics/adaptation-and-resilience/workstreams/loss-and-damage-ld/warsaw-international-mechanism-for-loss-and-damage-associated-with-climate-change-impacts-wim#eq-3, accessed 10/06/2021.
[2] UNFCCC, NDL, ‘Frequently asked questions – Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage’, https://unfccc.int/topics/resilience/resources/questions-and-answers-ld-mechanism, accessed 10/06/2021.
[3] Vincent Diringer, 2019, ‘Climate Change & Rising Sea Levels are Claiming Their First Victims: Islands’, Impakter, https://impakter.com/climate-change-rising-sea-levels-claiming-first-victims/, accessed 10/06/2021.
[4] Koko Warner, 2013, ‘Significance of the Warsaw International Mechanism’, United Nations University: Institute for Environment & Human Security, https://ehs.unu.edu/news/news/significance-of-the-warsaw-international-mechanism.html,  accessed 10/06/2021.
[5] UNFCCC, 2014, ‘Report of the Conference of the Parties on its nineteenth session, held in Warsaw from 11 to 23 November 2013. Addendum. Part two: Action taken by the Conference of the Parties at its nineteenth session.’,  https://unfccc.int/documents/8106#beg, accessed 10/06/2021.
[6] UNFCCC, 2020, ‘Online Guide: Loss & Damage’, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Online_Guide_feb_2020.pdf, accessed 14/06/2021.
[7] UNFCCC, 2016, ‘Paris Agreement’, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf, accessed 10/06/2021.
[8] Yamide Dagnet et al., 2020, ‘INSIDER: 4 Key Topics Climate Negotiators Must Resolve by COP26’, World Resources Institute,  https://www.wri.org/insights/insider-4-key-topics-climate-negotiators-must-resolve-cop26, accessed 10/06/2021.
[9] Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel et al., 2019, ‘Loss and Damage at COP25 – a hard fought step in the right direction’, Climate Analytics, https://climateanalytics.org/blog/2019/loss-and-damage-at-cop25-a-hard-fought-step-in-the-right-direction/, accessed 10/06/2021.
[10] Roz Pidcock & Sophie Yeo, 2017, ‘Explainer: Dealing with the ‘loss and damage’ caused by climate change’, Carbon Brief, https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-dealing-with-the-loss-and-damage-caused-by-climate-change, accessed 14/06/2021
[11] Isabelle Gerretsen, 2020, ‘Poor and island states highlight toll of climate disasters in submissions to UN’, Climate Home News, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/01/13/poor-island-states-highlight-toll-climate-disasters-submissions-un/, accessed 14/06/2021.

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