February 10, 2020

The Warsaw International Mechanism’s Taskforce on Displacement: Exemplifying the Necessity for Cross-Sectoral Practice

Keziah D. Groth-Tuft

For international lawyers involved in international negotiations around sustainable development or similar complex issues, it is becoming increasingly important to understand multiple areas of law and their interconnections. Sitting in the negotiating room at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) reviewing the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM), one would likely be lost without an understanding of, at the very least, humanitarian, climate change, and international development law. By discussing the relative successes of the WIM’s Task Force on Displacement (TFD) and introducing two new bodies created under the WIM at COP25, this article suggests that the TFD’s success can be used as a case study to demonstrate the importance of coordinating across “silos” in international environmental and development policy and law when resources are scarce but need is imminent.

The Basics of the Task Force on Displacement

One WIM outcome highlighted by observers and parties alike is the relative success of its TFD, now in its second phase of operation, unlike other WIM workstreams, such as the one addressing noneconomic losses (which has yet to operationalize). See UNFCCC, Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts and Its 2019 Review, ¶ ¶ 24, 25, and 36, U.N. Doc. Draft decision -/CMA.2 (advance unedited version). The TFD includes seven focus areas relevant to the issue of climate-related displacement, with international organizations from each area working in their own capacity on the TFD work plan. These seven focus areas (and members within each area) cover the fields of: loss and damage (WIM Executive Committee); development (UN Development Programme, International Labour Organization); humanitarian work (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UN High Commissioner for Refugees); human mobility (International Organization for Migration, the Platform on Disaster Displacement); civil society (UNFCCC NGO (nongovernmental organization) Constituency Group––Youth NGOs, the Civil Society Advisory Group on Climate Change and Mobility); adaptation (UNFCCC Adaptation Committee); and least developed countries’ needs (Least Developed Countries Expert Group of the UNFCCC). Task Force on Displacement at a Glance pamphlet (Oct. 2019) (on file with author).

For each phase of its operation, the TFD creates a work plan in which each activity is assigned to a lead member and additional supporting members based on the activity’s subject matter. See Implementation Updates––Task Force on Displacement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/bodies/constituted-bodies/executive-committee-of-the-warsaw-international-mechanism-for-loss-and-damage-wim-excom/task-force-on-displacement/implementation-updates-task-force-on-displacement (last visited Jan. 6, 2020). For example, Phase 1 Activity 1.2 on synthesizing the state of knowledge around displacement from slow onset events was led by the Civil Society Advisory Group with support from the UN Development Program, UN High Commissioner on Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration. Id. This demonstrates the civil society’s relatively wide-ranging area of specialized knowledge (representing academia, NGOs, etc.) while still supported by the technical capacities of relevant large international organizations.

Reflecting on the TFD’s structure and success, comments during negotiations highlighted the usefulness of each TFD member’s expertise in their respective field in contributing to the task force’s overall products. In fact, the main critiques for the task force were requests for support in implementing its findings and recommendations in the next phases of its work, showing approval of the TFD’s work thus far. See UNFCCC, U.N. Doc. Draft decision -/CMA.2 (advance unedited version), supra, at ¶ ¶ 2–3.

The TFD Structure Surfaces in New Arms of the WIM

One stream of thinking during negotiations on the review process suggested other arms of the WIM should likewise build on systems and organizations’ work both inside and outside of the UNFCCC, such as the not-yet-defined financial arm of the WIM. This in part reflects the lack of resources available to support loss and damage efforts even while the need for such efforts increases. This thinking is further reflected in the final decision adopting the Executive Committee’s (ExCom) review of the WIM, in which parties and other WIM stakeholders are “encouraged,” “requested,” and “invited,” to coordinate with other entities “under and outside the Convention and the Paris Agreement.” See, e.g., id. at ¶ ¶ 28, 35, 36, and 38. Such language demonstrates the importance of involving experts and organizations outside of the UNFCCC in integral parts of the WIM’s tasks, including financing, comprehensive risk management, addressing slow onset events, and extreme weather events. Id. at ¶ 36.

Unsurprisingly, two new bodies coming out of the WIM decision at the conference are expressly directed to coordinate in their efforts with organizations and experts both within and outside of the UNFCCC framework. Id. at ¶ ¶ 41, 43. Addressing the need of the most vulnerable developing countries for technical assistance and support in taking action to mitigate and respond to loss and damage from climate change, the WIM review decision established the Santiago Network to “catalyze technical assistance” from relevant entities in vulnerable developing country areas. Id. at ¶ ¶ 43–45. Involved organizations and individuals are then invited to report back to the ExCom as to their involvement in the network, which will then include such reports in the annual Executive Committee Report. Id. at ¶ 44–45.

Secondly, in response to the request for a financial arm of the WIM, the WIM decision requests the ExCom establish an expert group by the end of 2020 to focus on financial and other support available to developing countries most vulnerable to climate change. Id. at ¶ ¶ 37, 39–41. The new expert group is required to work with the Standing Committee on Finance within the UNFCCC and the Green Climate Fund to clarify mechanisms for funding related to loss and damage, as well as to continuously work with partners outside of the UNFCCC to identify, and improve access to, opportunities of support for developing countries’ loss and damage needs. Id. at ¶ ¶ 37, 39–41.

Notably, both the new expert group and the Santiago Network attempt to answer some of the most vulnerable developing countries’ calls for WIM work products which can be easily transferred to on-the-ground efforts even with minimal resources. The new mechanisms do this by trying to make connections for parties––by packaging experts’ research and resources into data to inform those persons making decisions in the countries first impacted by climate change. As parties to the UNFCCC continue to fall short of their financial and other climate change commitments while the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, the WIM has caught on to the fact that relying on internal UNFCCC processes alone will likely result in too little, too late. Alternatively, there seems to be a way forward in calling on other international organizations and processes to collaborate, as is the case for the TFD. Moving forward, an international labor law expert might work for the UNFCCC secretariat to spearhead a special climate work visas program in coordination with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), or a local red crescent leader might become the lead for a Green Climate Fund project. Regardless, the fields under international law are becoming more and more intertwined.

Keziah Groth-Tuft

Keziah Groth-Tuft is a 2L at The George Washington University Law School and holds an LL.M. in International Human Rights and Environmental Law from Lancaster University. This year marked her sixth year attending the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties to carry out independent research.