Loss and damage: when adaptation is not enough

Loss and damage: when adaptation is not enough

Results of a study focusing on the limits of adaptation, and the need to address the issue of unavoidable loss and damage.

The negative consequences of climate change are an increasingly prominent discussion point in global climate change negotiations, with mounting scientific evidence suggesting that despite global mitigation and adaptation efforts, residual losses and damages from climate change are inevitable. The challenges this problem represents, and the action required to deal with these challenges, are the subject of this study from the United Nations Environment Programme. The document begins by concisely charting the history of international negotiations which eventually led to the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM). It then presents findings from a number of case studies, which suggest that loss and damage is already being experienced by households in vulnerable communities in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Bhutan, and elsewhere. The study found that people in vulnerable countries incur loss and damage when no adaptation measures are adopted, when existing measures are not sufficient to avoid loss and damage, when measures have costs that are not recovered, and when coping measures have negative or erosive effects in the long term. Furthermore, loss and damage can undermine food and livelihood security, social cohesion, culture, and identity. Implications for policy making at the global, national, and local level are discussed, from the key impact that global mitigation efforts will have on future levels of loss and damage, to the need to tailor local projects to local contexts. Finally, a number of recommendations are offered:

  • More information is needed on future climate change impacts and on where the limits of adaptation lie. This will allow the creation of policies that help avoid negative impacts, where possible, and address residual loss and damage when it occurs.
  • Investing in climate-resilient development and adaptation today can reduce the amount of loss and damage incurred by future generations.
  • Avoiding loss and damage requires action at multiple levels and on several fronts, including mitigation, adaptation, comprehensive risk management, and sustainable development.
  • There are existing institutional arrangements and well-established academic traditions and communities of practice that focus on these issues separately, and need better coordination.
  • There is an urgent need to prepare societies for loss and damage that are not or cannot be avoided; this should be the core task of the WIM.
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