“Loss and damage” refers to the negative impacts and permanent losses caused by climate change in developing countries, and a discussion of measures to compensate for these impacts in the context of international climate negotiations.
The phrase “loss and damage” was coined as part of the UNFCCC Adaptation Framework agreed in Cancún in 2010. It encompasses a continuum of climate change impacts, from “slow onset” processes (e.g. sea level rise or glacial retreat) to periodic, extreme events (e.g. hurricanes, droughts, floods).
The “loss and damage” agenda is an attempt to address the needs of the individuals and local communities first and worst affected by climate change in the context of international climate negotiations. It entails a recognition that the most adverse effects of climate change can no longer be avoided through mitigation or adaptation.
Proponents of a robust “loss and damage” framework argue that it should take account of both economic damages, such as crop loss or the destruction of infrastructure, and non-economic damages such as the loss of livelihoods, territory or species extinction. It is also an issue of equity, since the countries most vulnerable to loss and damage are not those that were most responsible for causing climate change in the first place.
In the context of ongoing climate negotiations, this could lead to the creation of a “loss and damage” mechanism with a financial component to it. For example, debt relief or concessional loans could be organized as part of this method, offering a more equitable and appropriate response to extreme weather events than the short-term humanitarian interventions that typically follow such disasters. Other consequences of “loss and damage,” such as the needs of climate migrants, should also come under consideration.
Several issues remain to be resolved, however – most notably the objections of developed countries fearful that they may be faced with a large bill or that they might have to re-frame their approach to migration.
There are also several technical issues, including imperfect or limited climate data, or methodologies to account for impacts – since any calculable framework of economic damages cannot price the invaluable losses of culture or biodiversity, related to the displacement of indigenous populations and the destruction of habitats. These are serious challenges, although not adequate grounds for inaction.
Further reading and resources
Germanwatch et al., Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative http://www.lossanddamage.net/
Hoffmaister, J. and Stabinsky, D. (2012), “‘Loss and damage’ – the next frontier of climate change”, Third World Resurgence, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/resurgence/2012/264-265/cover09.htm
UNFCCC, Loss and Damage Work Programme http://unfccc.int/adaptation/workstreams/loss_and_damage/items/6010.php