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The Definitional Debate

loss and damage: cop20 documents - largeThe term loss and damage has gone through a change in its identity over the years. One of the issues that Parties faced was whether the term only referred to impacts of climate change to developing countries. Taking into consideration the term derived from discussions on ‘liability and compensation’ that was pushed largely by developing countries looking for restitution for the losses they will face in the future, when loss and damage was finally adopted there existed some uncertainties as to the terminology. Although the reference to developing countries (or non-Annex 1 countries) has been dropped, there is still no widely accepted definition in international negotiations. A useful working definition has been proposed by UNU-EHS whereby loss and damage is defined as “the impacts of climate change that people cannot cope with or adapt to”. This relates very closely to what the IPCC has referred to as limits to adaptation, however research is still unclear as to when such limits have been reached. Research on thresholds and hard limits is still emerging and it is not clear how this will advise policy-makers.

From the international perspective, one of the issues with loss and damage is whether it should be addressed separate from adaptation and mitigation. Since losses and damages will occur throughout the spectrum of climate change impacts, research on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) remains vital to understanding where losses arise. It is also important that limitations and tolerance levels are considered throughout the entire process on strengthening climate resilience for local communities since they may otherwise sink further into poverty as they face more and more environmental stresses. This largely points to the urgency of the issue.


Image credit: Stephanie Andrei

Evidence from the frontlines of climate change: loss and damage to communities despite coping and adaptation
K. Warner; K. van der Geest; S. Kreft / United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security 2012
This study presents empirical findings from fieldwork around the world examining loss and damage caused by global warming. The report begins by defining and contextualising the emerging discourse on assessing, quantifying and reacting...
Loss and Damage: Roadmap to Relevance for the Warsaw International Mechanism
L. Schäfer; S. Kreft / Germanwatch 2014
Roadmap document outlining possible structure and activities for the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. COP 19 in Warsaw decided to establish the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) under t...