Interview: How can the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage meet the technical needs of communities vulnerable to climate change?

The least developed countries (LDCs) climate negotiating group’s co-coordinator on loss and damage, Hafij Khan, sets out what the LDC Group needs the Santiago Network to deliver, and key decisions to be made at COP27.

Article, 29 September 2022
UN climate change conference (COP27)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2022 UNFCCC climate change summit in Sharm el-Sheikh
Hafij Khan
     Hafij Khan

The Santiago Network for Loss and Damage was established to connect developing countries with providers of technical assistance, knowledge and resources.

But while the functions of the network have been decided, how it will deliver on those functions is still to be agreed.

We spoke to Hafij Khan – the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) climate negotiating group’s co-coordinator on loss and damage – about the function of the Santiago Network, how best the network can support the least developed countries and his hopes for getting the network up and running at COP27.

Q: Why does loss and damage matter to the least developed countries? 

HK: The severe flash floods in northeastern districts in my country of Bangladesh are a recent example of the absolute devastation caused by huge loss and damage to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. 

As the countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, the least developed countries are well aware of these sorts of losses and damages resulting from climate change impacts. Least developed countries are taking relevant measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change and do everything we can to prepare.

But its impacts already go far beyond our capacity to cope, and we know they’ll only get worse – more frequent and more intense. We can’t avoid all the negative effects of climate change; we need to find ways to address the loss and damage that our people and communities are increasingly experiencing. The floods in my country killed over 100 people, caused hundreds of schools to close, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and washed away crops and livestock. 

In its Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms how vulnerable communities and ecosystems are disproportionately exposed to loss and damage from climate change impacts.

Q: How has loss and damage been addressed so far in the climate negotiations?

HK: The need for technical and financial support to address loss and damage in developing countries has been clear for some time, but the UNFCCC has so far failed to deliver action and support to that end. In response to the repeated calls from developing country Parties, the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage was established at COP25 in Madrid in 2019. 

Q: What is the Santiago Network designed to achieve? 

HK: The Santiago Network was established to ‘catalyse the technical assistance of relevant organisations, bodies, networks and experts, for the implementation of relevant approaches at the local, national and regional level, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change’.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Parties elaborated on this, agreeing to six functions for the Santiago Network. These included, for example, to assist in identifying and communicating technical assistance needs and priorities, identifying relevant technical assistance, and actively connecting those seeking technical assistance with best suited organisations, bodies, networks and experts who could provide that assistance

Q: So, is it up and running? 

HK: No. While the functions of the network were decided in Glasgow, its institutional arrangements to deliver on those functions remain undecided. Parties and other stakeholders have provided many innovative thoughts and ideas on the institutional architectures that would enable the network to deliver its functions effectively.

Q: What’s the next step in getting the Santiago Network to deliver? 

HK: At COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Parties will need to agree these arrangements, including how the network is structured, who oversees its activities, where it is hosted, how it is funded, and who can request technical assistance from the network. 

Q: What does the LDCs group want to see from these decisions?

HK: For us, it's critical that the Santiago Network can catalyse the levels of technical support we need. It’s no small task, and it’s a very important one. The network will need a secretariat with adequate financial support and human resources to deliver its functions. And that secretariat, which will likely need to be hosted by an external organisation outside the UNFCCC, must have oversight from the Parties of the UNFCCC.

While it will be important to discuss and agree on the selection criteria for the secretariat’s host and its terms of reference, we must first agree on the network’s structure. And we must be wary of falling into the trap of leaving it up to the hosting institute to decide on the structure.

After all, this is a Party-driven process, and as the Santiago Network was established to support developing countries to address loss and damage, it's important the least developed countries are involved in decisions to determine how it will be operationalised. 

There are clearly diverging views on the structure of the network, and this is where talks got held up at the Bonn negotiations earlier this year. We’re concerned that developed country Parties have been calling for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) executive committee (ExCom) to provide this oversight role over the Santiago Network – as we know that committee is already struggling to carry out all the activities in its workplan.

It would have very limited capacity to ensure the smooth and effective running of the Santiago Network. We see the ExCom as the policy arm of the WIM, and the Santiago Network as its implementation arm, and we think keeping these separate will enable more action on loss and damage, which we know is urgently needed.

So the establishment of an advisory board that is separate from the ExCom and directly accountable to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, to play the oversight role to the network, is critically important for least developed countries.

Q: So, what’s the way forward? 

HK: The incoming COP27 presidency has expressed concerns about the diverging positions on the institutional arrangements of the Santiago Network, along with other crunch issues including establishing a financial facility for loss and damage. To press for progress ahead of COP27, the incoming presidency organised an in-person heads of delegation meeting in September, focusing on loss and damage.

There were useful discussions on the need for predictable funding for the Santiago Network, and on the network’s role in assisting countries with developing loss and damage needs assessments. 

Now hopes are high for the presidency to take forward these discussions to the COP27 negotiations, and to agree on appropriate institutional structures so the Santiago Network can meet the technical needs of least developed countries communities.  

Q: Overall, are you hopeful the Santiago Network will deliver what the LDCs need?  

HK: The Santiago Network is just one part of the UNFCCC’s mechanism for addressing loss and damage – we think of it as the technical arm of the WIM, complementing the existing policy arm (the ExCom). The network alone won’t be enough to adequately address loss and damage in least developed countries, and that’s why we envision the development of a financial arm as well, the loss and damage finance facility.

But if well designed and with the necessary finance and human resources behind it, the Santiago Network should at least ensure least developed countries are well supported to identify and articulate our needs for addressing loss and damage, and that communities needing support are linked up with appropriate providers of technical assistance to respond to those needs.