Making 2015 a crucial year to address loss and damage

19th June 2015

 ACH with the European Commission DG ECHO - big

In this guest article, Stephanie Andrei and Saleem Huq introduce issues associated with Loss and Damage (L&D) and discuss how it will be embedded in the upcoming post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change negotiations.


The debate on loss and damage may seem simple, but in reality it is a multi-layered issue with challenges at nearly every stage. This has been problematic especially for developing countries that are experiencing disproportionately more adverse effects due to climate change, despite having contributed very little to the problem. They have and will continue to face losses and damages well beyond their ability and capacity to cope.

This Key Issues Guide was created to help untangle the debate and raise awareness about loss and damage from a climate change and development perspective. Although research on the issue has only started to emerge, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) communities. The guide will point to some of these lessons as well as provide links to research from mainly developing countries.

See report: ‘Pushed to the limit: evidence of climate change-related loss and damage when people face constraints and limits to adaptation

Strengthening sectoral and thematic links

Small island states and least developed countries will experience future losses due to climate change that they will likely not be able to recover from. Already, countries with a large coastline are becoming inundated due to sea level rise and individuals are being forced to leave, either due to direct or indirect climatic stressors. Adaptation and mitigation efforts will not be sufficient to prevent all future losses but it is marginalised individuals who will face the most difficulty coping.

This year will be a crucial one for addressing loss and damage, not only because of the climate agreement that will be finalised in Paris at COP 21, but also because of the post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These international processes are intrinsically linked – sufficient evidence shows that climate change and ensuing environmental disasters due to global warming will have adverse effects on development and economic targets. Efforts to adapt, respond and cope with disasters should therefore feed into one another to create a more effective development process.

History of loss and damage: how did we get here?

While research specifically on loss and damage is only beginning to emerge with projects like the ‘Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative’ by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) project ‘Linking Disaster DRR, CCA and Loss and Damage’, there are several lessons to be learned from the DRR and CCA communities. Loss and damage has been an opportunity in this sense to better link these processes, yet developed countries have remained fearful of this term.

Since Vanuatu made the proposal to include an insurance mechanism in 1991, at the start of the UNFCCC negotiations, there was a long hiatus before Parties felt comfortable to begin conversations on the issue again. During this time, Parties had also compromised on the terms liability and compensation and opted instead for loss and damage. Although this weakening of the terminology upset most developing countries, it has allowed negotiations to proceed.

The first mention of loss and damage in a UNFCCC decision was in Cancun (COP 16) when Parties launched a work programme for enhanced understanding of loss and damage. Outcomes from this programme helped to persuade Parties to call for the establishment of an institutional arrangement two years later. Mirrored by hurricane Sandy that hit the East Coast of the United States weeks prior to COP 18 and claimed $70 billion in direct damages, it was clear it would be difficult for developed countries to evade the issue of losses and damages due to climate change much longer. The Warsaw International Mechanism on loss and damage (WIM) that was established at COP 19 demonstrated the urgency with which countries must begin to analyse adverse impacts that will occur in spite of adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The road ahead

Although the two-year work plan to advise the WIM will only be reevaluated at COP 22, after a new agreement has been made, there is still significant optimism that a reference to loss and damage will at least be included. What this will mean is still uncertain but developing countries have been eager to include a financial mechanism to help them better respond to and cope with future environmental events.

The recently established Sendai Framework and upcoming post-2015 SDGs should therefore not only be seen as foreshadowing the new Paris agreement but also as efforts in their own right to reduce losses and damages. While more research is necessary, conceptualising loss and damage is incredibly important to better inform policy-makers.

Key Resource: Eldis Loss and Damage Key Issues Guide

Image credit: ACH for the European Commission DG ECHO | Flickr