Loss and Damage from climate change: science, practice and policy propositions for tackling adaptation limits

14:00 Tuesday 28 May


Room S5


Elisa Calliari (United Kingdom) 1; Lisa Vanhala (United Kingdom) 2; Reinhard Mechler (Austria) 3

1 - University College London (UCL), Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change (CMCC); 2 - University College London (UCL); 3 - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

2018 was marked by a number of particularly severe climate-related extreme events across the globe, well in line with IPCC findings showing that the frequency, intensity and severity of climate- related hazards are being adversely shaped by anthropogenic climate change. Increasingly, evidence is emerging that risks linked to those hazards have the potential to significantly affect lives and erode livelihoods across the globe, as well as push vulnerable people, communities and countries to their physical and socio-economic adaptation limits. Is climate change thus leading to instances ‘beyond adaptation’? The UNFCCC’s Loss and Damage (L&D) policy discourse has given voice to these concerns over the last 3 decades, yet concepts, methods and tools as well as directions for policy and implementation have remained contested and vague.

This session presents state-of-the-art research on L&D conducted across diverse disciplines, including attribution science, economics, and political science, as well as emerging policy options and responses from practice. It is structured along three conceptually interrelated sections aiming at i) introducing key concepts, challenges and insights relevant to the L&D debate; ii) discussing critical issues shaping the policy debate; and iii) outlining policy options and other response mechanisms for L&D. Appropriate time is devoted to foster engagement with the audience, and discuss promising avenues for enhancing coherence not only within the same L&D debate, but also with the related policy agendas of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About the organizers:

The session integrates and showcases ongoing research efforts under the European Research Council (ERC) funded project Climate Change Loss and Damage (CCLAD) and the Loss&Damage Network initiative. CCLAD examines the politics of international negotiations and implementation of L&D policy and involves cross-national research on domestic L&D practices. The Loss and Damage Network brings together scientists and practitioners to inform the L&D debate with evidence-based research and policy propositions.

Target audience

The session aims at fostering understanding, learning and engagement between natural and social scientists as well as practitioners working on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. It also provides insights for policy by discussing the contribution from both science and practice in advancing understanding and response to L&D.

Proposed format for the session

The session includes 7 presentations (8 minutes each + 2 minutes for Q&A) and allocates appropriate time (20 minutes) for in-depth questions and discussion with the audience. It is structured along three interrelated sections aiming at i) ‘Setting the scene’; ii) discussing critical issues shaping the discourse; and iii) outlining policy and practice options for L&D. Presentations in the first block discuss linkages between the ‘Limits to adaptation’ and L&D concepts (Johanna Nalau, Griffith University) and the role of climate risk analysis for identifying a Risk and Policy Space for L&D (Reinhard Mechler, IIASA). The second block highlights the relevance of attribution science for the L&D policy debate (Rachel James, University of Oxford) and current political stumbling blocks in L&D international negotiations (Elisa Calliari, Lisa Vanhala, University College London). Finally, the third section outlines opportunities and limitations of emerging policy and practice options. These include financial tools as insurance (Swenja Surminski, London School of Economics) and bonds (Zinta Zommers (Mercy Corps), and the role of technology (Colin Mc Quistan, Practical Action).

Contributing Authors abstracts

1. Limits to climate change adaptation

Limits to adaptation to climate change are currently poorly understood as is also their link to L&D. This presentation discusses the linkage between these two concepts. Both of them are increasingly important and need to be well understood as well as underpinned by empirical research that can inform the UNFCCC, and the work of the IPCC in its Sixth Assessment Report. The presentation provides insights from the first book that collected empirical evidence on adaptation limits globally, and also discusses how L&D can be contextualized across regions and cultures in the Pacific. By presenting key insights from these respective works, the presentation contributes to a critical and much needed discussion in operationalizing such concepts for science, policy and practice.

2. Climate risk analysis for identifying the Risk and Policy Space for Loss and Damage. Integrating Notions of Distributive and Compensatory Justice with Comprehensive Climate Risk Management

Negotiations on L&D under the UNFCCC are stuck between demands for climate justice, understood as compensation, for increases in extreme and slow-onset event risk, and the reluctance of other Parties to consider L&D different from adaptation and offer anything else than support for climate insurance. Working towards a jointly acceptable position, we suggest an actionable way forward for aligning comprehensive climate risk analytics with distributive and compensatory justice considerations. Our proposed framework involves in a short-medium term, needs-based perspective support for climate risk management (CRM) beyond countries ability to absorb risk. In a medium- longer term, we suggest considering liabilities attributable to anthropogenic climate change and associated impacts. We thus identify a distinct policy space for L&D as composed of curative and transformative measures. For both sets of measures, risk financing (such as ‘climate insurance’) emerges as an entry point for further policy action, as it holds potential for both risk management as well as compensation functions.

3. Attribution science: how is it relevant to the Loss and Damage policy and practice debate?

Attribution is often associated with blame and liability. The science of attribution, however, is not designed to establish responsibility, but rather to further understanding of links between elements of the Earth system and society. If adaptation and L&D mechanisms are to address climate change, attribution science has a potentially important role to play, in helping to diagnose drivers of risk, and therefore informing management. This presentation provides an overview of attribution science in the context of L&D. The authors have conducted several years’ research talking to policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers about attribution and L&D, and therefore the first aspect of the talk presents the findings from this stakeholder engagement. Second, an overview of attribution science is provided: what it can and can’t say with reference to L&D, what the uncertainties are, and what prospects are there for strengthening the evidence base.

4. The Politics of L&D – A map of ‘contentious issues’ in loss and damage climate negotiations

L&D has been defined as one of the most ambiguous, challenging, contested and contentious issues to be dealt with in recent climate negotiations. Yet, the full breadth of reasons why L&D has been and continues to be intractable have been under-studied. The authors engaged key L&D negotiators in identifying sensitive and contentious elements in L&D discussions under the UNFCCC. The presentation outlines main results from this research and map a number of underlying issues fuelling controversy and making the L&D debate particularly difficult. These include: i) the indeterminacy of problem formulation; ii) the existence of different levels of discussion (political vs technical); iii) the connection with other disputes within and beyond the UNFCCC. The presentation concludes with recommendations on how to promote constructive cooperative relations among Parties.

5. Insurance as a Response to Loss and Damage?

This presentation asks whether insurance instruments, especially micro-insurance and regional pools, can serve as a risk-reducing and equitable compensatory response to L&D from climate extremes occurring in developing countries, and consequently if insurance instruments can serve the preventative and curative targets of the Warsaw International Mechanism for L&D (WIM). The discussion emphasizes the substantial benefits of both micro-insurance programs and regional pools, while also detailing their significant costs. Beyond costs and benefits, a main message is that if no significant intervention is undertaken in their design and implementation, market-based insurance mechanisms will likely fall short of fully meeting WIM aspirations of loss reduction and equitable compensation.

6. Innovative financial tools for tackling L&D

This presentation explores mechanisms of finance for L&D. In 2017 alone, economic loss from natural disasters amounted to $360 billion globally and are further expected to grow. The WIM has made little progress identifying new or additional finance which to address L&D. Vulnerable nations will likely require the use of innovative financial tools beyond insurance. This presentation reviews innovative finance tools with a focus on bonds. Four types of ‘bonds’ are most pertinent for resilience financing: green bonds, catastrophe bonds, resilience bonds and impact bonds. Mercy Corps has been working to design a bond for Semarang City, Indonesia. The city has experienced considerable flooding over the past few decades. Additional finance is needed for resilient infrastructure financing. This presentation highlights the challenges and benefits of innovative finance for L&D.

7. Technology for Climate Justice

L&D forces trade-offs in terms of reducing risks through greater investment in technologies for adaptation versus absorbing risks and then financing curative or transformative measures. This presentation highlights that attention to especially distributive, compensatory and procedural climate justice principles in terms of distributing technology, building capacity and providing finance, can help to motivate support for widening the technology spectrum available to developing countries thus reducing the long term and global costs resulting from L&D.