'Loss and damage' - the next frontier of climate change

As climate change impacts grow in scale and frequency, developing countries are now confronted with more damage and even permanent losses. In December 2011, governments adopted a work programme under the United Nations climate treaty and regional meetings were held for Africa (June), Latin America (July), Asia and Eastern Europe (August), and Small Island Developing States (October). These will provide inputs to the decision on loss and damage to be adopted in Doha in November. Below is the text of a Third World Network brief on lessons learned from the regional meetings, key issues for Doha and recommendations for future action on loss and damage.

Juan P Hoffmaister and Doreen Stabinsky

Loss and damage - a new reality for developing countries

THE phrase 'loss and damage' refers broadly to the entire range of damage and permanent loss 'associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change' that can no longer be avoided through mitigation nor can be avoided through adaptation.

The loss and damage associated with climate change is expected to increase over time, due to increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, as well as impacts of slow-onset events. With current levels of committed warming, we also face the risk of passing tipping points of important climate system elements that may trigger a process of abrupt and non-linear climate change. All vulnerable countries as identified in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are currently at risk from levels of loss and damage that will have significant impacts on lives, livelihoods and the prospects for sustainable development.

Relevant lessons learned from the work programme and regional meetings

According to the mandate from decision 7/CP.17 adopted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in 2011, the expert meetings were to examine a range of approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather and slow-onset events.

Participants at the regional meetings (Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe, and Small Island Developing States) discussed multiple approaches to address loss and damage. They recognised that some approaches might have synergies with adaptation efforts, while others will require taking action through new arrangements and standalone approaches. Many have concluded that obligations under the UNFCCC related to loss and damage require attention by the Parties, and the regional meetings so far have provided a unique window to contextualise local, national and regional challenges in a manner whereby the Parties to the Convention can decide adequate next steps at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar in November.

A number of key lessons were learned through the work programme and regional discussions:

1. There are limits to adaptation. The continuing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the denial of historical responsibility by developed countries, and the limited support that has been forthcoming for adaptation, limit how much developing countries can do. Moreover, there are real physical limits to adaptation, particularly to the impacts of slow-onset processes. As temperatures and sea levels rise, territories will become uninhabitable and unproductive. Soil moisture levels will decrease to the point where cultivation of crops is no longer viable in entire regions. Groundwater sources in coastal areas will become too saline to provide drinking water for people living there. Adaptation will become impossible on low-lying islands and in the most arid regions; this will lead to permanent loss of lands, livelihoods, and cultural resources.

2. There are limitations to risk reduction, risk retention and risk transfer approaches to loss and damage. Risk reduction, like adaptation, becomes impossible after a certain point, for example, when a territory becomes uninhabitable. Migration and planned relocation are only coping mechanisms in that situation. Risk retention, when countries assume the costs of damage and loss in national accounting, is not an option for many countries. Risk transfer is a broad category of mechanisms to transfer the cost of damage and loss to a third party, usually through some form of insurance. There is potential for risk transfer and other risk-sharing mechanisms like insurance to address a subset of losses and damage; however, insurance works best for low-probability, high-impact events. Insurance is not appropriate for events of 100% certainty, such as sea level rise and increased temperatures.

3. Both economic and non-economic shocks must be considered in both the assessment of loss and damage and in the analysis of approaches to address loss and damage. Examples of economic losses include structural damage from floods or hurricanes, or crop loss due to drought or extreme heat. Non-economic losses include cultural loss, loss of livelihoods or territory, or species extinction. Some damage can be rehabilitated (such as damage to infrastructure), while other damage and loss cannot (e.g., cultural loss, loss of ecosystems, melted glaciers, loss of human life). Traditional approaches to risk management to address economic losses have been considered extensively in the context of both climate change and other natural hazards. The UNFCCC work programme needs to expand efforts to understand new approaches, including approaches to address non-economic losses. The UNFCCC, as the policy-relevant forum, must drive discussions on possible financial measures to assist countries in coping with loss and damage, for example deferral of payments to international institutions, debt relief, and other similar measures, as well as measures to strengthen social safety nets to support vulnerable groups and cope with non-economic losses.

4. Loss and damage is an issue of equity. The countries most vulnerable to loss and damage are not responsible for the climate change that is destroying lives and livelihoods. Equity as the basis for defining action is operationalised in Article 3.1 of the UNFCCC: 'The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.'

5. Distinctions can be made between avoidable and unavoidable losses. Avoidable losses, as the name implies, can possibly be prevented with anticipatory action. Avoidable losses are not always avoided, as countries may decide to not act, or limited capacity may prevent action. But many climate change impacts are unavoidable, including many slow-onset changes. Examples of unavoidable losses are coral bleaching, sea level rise, and temperature rise that leads to land being taken out of production.

6. Loss and damage are fundamentally the result of climate impacts, not inherent vulnerabilities. Vulnerability and risk drivers are not the cause of losses: loss and damage result from climate impacts. Damage and loss can be exacerbated due to underlying vulnerabilities, but vulnerability is not the cause of drought or sea level rise. If an old person slowly crossing a street is hit by a car, she is hurt by the car, not by her underlying vulnerability of being old and walking slowly. As codified in international law in Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), States have 'the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.'

The duty of States to abide by the 'no-harm' rule applies to the harm caused from the historical accumulation of greenhouse gases. This duty is not exonerated by the vulnerability of those affected, especially when some of those vulnerabilities are due to uncontrollable or historical circumstances, such as geophysical conditions, unfair global economic conditions, structural conditions created under colonialism, etc. In this context, it is worth noting that no group or country-category is defined as more vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change than another under the Convention. Vulnerability is defined according to geophysical conditions identified in the preamble of the UNFCCC, while some articles identify the special needs that groups or country-categories may experience arising from other issues.

7. There is a need for specialised support for addressing impacts from slow-onset processes. With COP decision 1/CP.16 adopted in 2010, Parties agreed to consider slow-onset events in the work programme on loss and damage. There is a list of impacts considered to be slow-onset events:1 sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinisation, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. (Slow-onset events are further discussed below.)

However, there are still some gaps in responding to the fullest extent to the questions mandated by COP 17 to better understand the full range of approaches and tools that can be used to address the risk of loss and damage, at all levels and for a broad range of sectors and ecosystems, considering both extreme weather events and slow-onset events. Approaches such as national social protection measures, approaches drawing from social capital, and others that could address concerns related to non-economic losses need to be discussed in much more detail.

Key topics for work post-Doha

The regional meetings were instrumental in focusing on certain key issues that help answer important questions needed for a successful COP 18 outcome: understanding approaches to address non-economic losses; the challenge posed to sustainable development due to lost development opportunities; the challenges and opportunities to support particularly vulnerable countries through providing safety nets in the context of loss and damage; and a contextualisation of the challenges and opportunities of insurance and insurance-like mechanisms are among the most important issues. Specific topics include the following:

1. Loss and damage needs to be considered in the context of lost opportunities to achieve sustainable development. Added to the existing challenges of development are the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change, and now of addressing loss and damage. Therefore, discussions on loss and damage go beyond traditional approaches to disaster risk management and adaptation, and in fact are principally concerned with the additional burden to sustainable development caused by the failure to reach the objective of the Convention to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, discussions must include direct harm [i.e., the direct costs of actual (unavoidable) harms] and forgone development (i.e., the costs of lost and diminished opportunities in developing countries caused by having to forgo development options) from extreme events and slow-onset events.

2. Further consideration should be given to the limitations to risk reduction, risk retention and risk transfer approaches to loss and damage and alternatives. Over the past decade, policymakers and negotiators have discussed a range of approaches to address loss and damage, from disaster risk reduction to risk transfer and insurance. These existing approaches should be further evaluated with a view to identifying gaps in addressing the range of loss and damage.

For example, a number of organisations are trying to design insurance products that can reach and benefit the poorest agriculturalists, such as weather index-based insurance. However, as noted above, insurance works best for low-probability, high-impact events. Insuring climate risks becomes less and less tenable when events become more frequent, as premiums will rise accordingly. More frequent droughts, or high temperatures that kill crops or livestock, will become less and less insurable as these events increase in frequency with the rise in global temperature. Insuring climate risks is also inappropriate for slow-onset events that will occur with 100% probability, as mentioned above. All these limitations to risk transfer approaches must be further considered in the context of the work programme.

3. The analysis of approaches to address loss and damage needs to consider economic and non-economic dimensions, particularly in the context of slow-onset events. Much attention has gone into the traditional approaches to risk management to address economic losses, but the work programme needs to redouble efforts to understand approaches to address non-economic losses. The work programme needs to identify actions to strengthen existing or identify new approaches to address non-economic losses. Non-insurance mechanisms can provide the liquidity needed for recovering from disaster shocks and provide capital for prevention.2 However, the work programme still has not explored the full potential of approaches to address non-economic losses at micro-, meso-and macro-scales.

4. Loss and damage requires consideration of approaches to address economic shocks. Conventional insurance is generally not appropriate for slow-onset climate impacts. Other instruments may be needed in this case. The UNFCCC must drive discussions on how financial measures could be fostered to assist countries in coping with loss and damage, for example deferral of payments to international institutions, debt relief, and other similar measures. Economies in particularly vulnerable countries rely on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, and forests. Limited resources for coping with and recovering from climate and socio-economic shocks and stresses threaten to derail efforts for sustainable development.3

Dealing with long-term challenges of slow-onset processes

Slow-onset events, as noted in decision 1/CP.16, include sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinisation, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. These slow-onset 'events' - more appropriately termed slow-onset processes, hazards or impacts - are an important element in the conversation on loss and damage, distinct from extreme events.

Much of the discussion on approaches to address loss and damage has focused on extreme events, e.g., floods, drought and heat waves. As already mentioned, risk transfer approaches are particularly appropriate for certain types of extreme events, albeit taking into consideration the limitations of such approaches.

Slow-onset events will have significant and wide-ranging impacts on people's lives and livelihoods and are irreversible in our lifetimes if temperatures continue to rise. The losses that result from slow-onset processes will affect many more people than extreme events over a long period of time. As already discussed, because of the certainty of their occurrence and because they are persistent and develop over time, they are not amenable to many of the approaches currently under consideration for addressing extreme events, such as index-based insurance. Moreover, because these 'events' progress and increase in impact over time, adaptation is a decreasingly viable option, as we noted earlier.

Parties will need to undertake further work under the UNFCCC to enhance the understanding of slow-onset processes, the types of loss and damage associated with various types of slow-onset impacts, and how these impacts might be addressed in multiple contexts. There is also a need to enhance coordination and cooperation with other regional and multilateral institutions. The mandate of the work programme requires Parties to look at approaches for dealing with both climate change-related extreme weather events and slow-onset hazards. However, up to this point, the work programme has given much more consideration to the issues raised by extreme events. This deficiency in identifying and evaluating approaches to address slow-onset events must be recognised by COP 18 for future work.

Additional to slow-onset events already identified, there is also a need to better understand permanent state shifts and tipping points. For example, long-term extreme droughts may actually signal a shift to states of permanent aridity. State shifts are qualitative changes in the state of a system. Such changes are often, though not always, irreversible. While most often we think of state shifts in biological or climatological terms, we can also consider socio-economic state shifts, brought about when land is no longer able to produce food, to provide fodder for animals, or when fisheries no longer provide enough fish for the fishing communities dependent on them. These permanent shifts in state can happen slowly or rapidly. The drying described above will result from a slow shift in the temperature and precipitation regime. Major tipping elements in the earth system, such as the annual West African and Indian summer monsoons, the El Nino Southern Oscillation, or the Amazon rainforest could be pushed towards tipping points that would bring about more rapid state shifts with impacts felt at the global level.

The work already achieved under the work programme supports the need to move towards a systematic approach to address loss and damage, including through specialised support for addressing impacts from slow-onset processes and to observe and take appropriate action as tipping points begin to be identified. The UNFCCC needs to find a way to systematically support developing countries as they address slow-onset impacts, rather than with an ad hoc humanitarian pledge approach, as has been historically the case with major disasters in developing countries. Slow-onset events will require action and measures to address loss as well as to remediate and rehabilitate damage - to livelihoods, to both natural and managed ecosystems, and other productive resources.

Juan Hoffmaister is a researcher with the Third World Network. Doreen Stabinsky is Professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic in Maine, USA. Nathan Thanki contributed to the writing of this article.


1. These impacts are listed in a footnote in decision 1/CP.16.

2. FCCC/TP/2008/9, 2008. Mechanisms to manage financial risks from direct impacts of climate change in developing countries - Technical Paper. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, Bonn.

3. FCCC/TP/2008/3, 2008. Physical and socio-economic trends in climate-related risks and extreme events, and their implications for sustainable development - Technical Paper. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, Bonn.

The need for systematic consideration and support on loss and damage

THE current work of the work programme indicates that loss and damage will grow to become a major issue affecting economies and livelihoods in developing countries. A systematic approach to addressing loss and damage could be achieved through establishing an international mechanism to address loss and damage under the UNFCCC, as called for by developing countries in negotiations. The mechanism would be a facility to support developing countries' needs with respect to loss and damage; drive enhanced understanding and means of assessing loss and damage; facilitate coordination and cooperation on addressing loss and damage around the world, including through a compensation mechanism; and would be a means for the UNFCCC to exercise leadership in coordinating a global response on loss and damage. Below we briefly point out three of the elements that such a systematic approach should address:

Extreme events and slow-onset impacts are surpassing the capacities of countries to cope, and the associated losses and damage require new approaches. Because the Earth is slow to warm, accumulated historical emissions will cause warming, and impacts, for years to come - even if all emissions are halted immediately. We are facing the risk of passing tipping points and triggering a process of abrupt and non-linear climate change.

Finance alone cannot adequately compensate people for the loss of family, homes, territory, culture or livelihoods that will result from radical changes in climate, whether at local, regional or global levels. Approaches to address non-economic losses need to be central to a holistic framework to support developing countries in coping with loss and damage. This systematic approach needs to give consideration and support to national and subnational social safety nets and how to strengthen these approaches through the Convention, which can tackle some of these non-economic losses.

There are limitations to humanitarian approaches to respond to disasters. Traditional approaches to respond to emergencies, particularly at the international level (e.g., pledge-based responses, ad hoc bilateral support for recovery), are not sufficient to address recurrent loss and damage. Therefore, there is a need to consider relevant experience on financial and other measures to assist developing countries affected by extreme losses, such as debt relief and concessional loans. Such schemes could be designed to help developing countries recover after terrible tragedies. Relevant examples can be drawn from the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, when a trust was created for international debt relief efforts when countries meeting certain criteria are hit by the most catastrophic of natural disasters. Such debt relief and similar concessions can free up additional resources to meet exceptional balance-of-payments needs created by the disaster and the recovery, complementing direct financing at preferential terms and in some instances concessional liquidity support. There are other relevant experiences and approaches that should be part of a range of approaches to address loss and damage and where the Convention must take the lead.

Addressing loss and damage and the needs of developing countries

THE UNFCCC's Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) will meet in Doha and will make recommendations on loss and damage for consideration by COP 18. A COP decision should contain several elements, many of which have been already outlined by developing countries in the negotiations. First, the COP should establish an international mechanism to address loss and damage and determine the process to elaborate on the modalities and other details to make such a mechanism functional by COP 20. Additionally, work similar to that already undertaken should continue in the SBI, further examining some of the issues that have emerged from the work programme and considering how to extend the work to other appropriate bodies under the Convention. The COP 18 outcome should contain standalone elements and recommendations, such as a request to the financial mechanisms and actions related to capacity building. The COP could also establish pilot programmes to address the needs of developing countries identified over the course of the last two years, whether individually under the Convention or in collaboration with other institutions.

A. Addressing needs under the Convention

The UNFCCC is the relevant policy forum to take concrete action to address loss and damage, both under and outside the Convention, and the COP must exercise its responsibility as such. The Convention contains relevant principles for addressing loss and damage that should be taken into consideration as Parties debate next steps on loss and damage. For example, Article 3.3 of the Convention states that: '...where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures.' This principle must be applied consistently in the development of inputs for a COP 18 outcome.

1. Elaboration of the modalities of an institutional mechanism on loss and damage. Negotiations in Doha must focus on filling the existing gaps in institutional and legal frameworks to address loss and damage, including through an institutional mechanism to address slow-onset impacts and other unavoidable damage. An institutionalised process to address loss and damage needs to be put in place, with roles assigned to the Adaptation Committee (AC), and consideration of the matter taken up also under the financial mechanism, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The decision establishing the mechanism should give guidance on the governance and functions of the mechanism. As identified by developing countries in Bonn, these functions could be:

a) Assessment of loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change: The special needs of particularly vulnerable developing countries must be accounted for in assessing the avoidable or unavoidable nature of loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change. This role could include coordinating and providing guidance on standards for assessing loss and damage, such as guiding the data collection and analysis activities of relevant institutions.

b) Addressing loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change, including through a compensation and rehabilitation fund: Unavoidable loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change may be addressed through risk-sharing mechanisms, but total loss and damage from the adverse effects of climate change will need to be redressed through compensation and rehabilitation mechanisms. This role could include coordinating and supporting technical assistance and action, and establishing and supporting regional networks of collaborative partners within and external to governments. It could also require dedicated support through the GCF to facilitate approaches to address loss and damage at the regional and national levels.

c) Leadership and promotion of cooperation and coordination outside the Convention: The mechanism should be situated under the umbrella of the Convention and housed within the UNFCCC Secretariat, where administrative support can be provided, with support and guidance of a Board constituted by Party members and with involvement of stakeholders. The Convention could under this mechanism take systematic efforts to support responses to slow-onset damage, link with UN institutions managing human mobility, coordinate cross-boundary issues and resources, link with other UN convention processes such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and Convention to Combat Desertification, and other UN and international organisations as appropriate.

2. Role of the Adaptation Committee. The Adaptation Committee has the duty to promote coherence on adaptation. Given the important overlaps and synergies between adaptation and approaches to address loss and damage, the AC can be asked to provide technical support and guidance to the Parties with a view to facilitating the implementation of adaptation activities in a manner that fosters approaches to address loss and damage.

Similarly in performing its role, inter alia, in strengthening, consolidating and enhancing the sharing of relevant information, knowledge, experience and good practices, at the local, national, regional and international levels, taking into account, as appropriate, traditional knowledge and practices, the AC could play an active role in providing technical support and guidance to the Parties on some of the work remaining specific to loss and damage. This role could include the elaboration of modalities and technical aspects of an international mechanism to address loss and damage, as well as to provide recommendations to bodies of the Convention and strengthen related work under the Convention.

Additionally, the AC could be requested to play an active role and engage actions necessary outside the Convention, in accordance with its role of promoting synergy and strengthening engagement with national, regional and international organisations, centres and networks, in order to enhance the implementation of adaptation actions, in particular in developing-country Parties, including to identify and recommend appropriate actions to address emerging needs and gaps, including outside the Convention. This work could include matters related to engaging relevant stakeholders in advancing agreed actions related to loss and damage, such as other UN institutions and civil society. Some of the issues to consider under this work can be matters related to, inter alia, migration, disaster risk reduction, agriculture and fisheries. For example, the AC could engage with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction where parallels might be sought with the governance system for addressing impacts of extreme events and identify common actions on disaster risk reduction and humanitarian intervention as part of a proactive and reactive response to loss and damage.

A particular issue that could be tasked to the AC in the interim is to further explore the multiple challenges for developing countries in operating catastrophe insurance and alternative non-market instruments. The work under the work programme to date appears to identify this area as a gap. This work could be done in collaboration with the SBI as part of a second phase of the programme of work.

3. Role of the SBI. A second phase of the programme under the SBI could help maintain the momentum and focus on some of the emerging issues under the current three themes, particularly employing leadership from constituted bodies and subsidiary bodies. Such an extension should in no way detract from a separate parallel process for making the international mechanism to address loss and damage operational by COP 20. The current work programme has identified opportunities and challenges for developing countries with respect to approaches to loss and damage, many of which have been mentioned in this article. For example, additional work focused on the implementation of approaches to address slow-onset events could be a key element under a second phase of the work programme on loss and damage, including on how insurance and non-insurance tools could be employed to manage adverse effects from slow-onset processes whilst longer-term solutions are being explored. As noted, slow-onset processes will require action and measures to address loss as well as to remediate and rehabilitate damage - to livelihoods, to both natural and managed ecosystems, and other productive resources. The SBI could work to further elaborate approaches to address slow-onset processes, particularly at national level. In this sense, collaboration with the ongoing work on the development and implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) could be timely. Additionally, the SBI could also work in collaboration with experts and stakeholders on how to strengthen social safety nets, such as social security and other measures directed to responding to local and community needs.

Similarly, discussions on the elaboration of modalities for support of NAPs, including on the identification of needs at national level, require special consideration of elements related to work on loss and damage. The assessment of loss and damage, in particular, could be an element included in the formulation of NAPs, and bodies under the Convention, as well as other experts involved in the modalities, could collaborate in a second phase of the work programme to make loss and damage part of such ongoing work.

The work under themes 1 and 2 of the loss and damage work programme has begun to identify and better understand slow-onset processes. This work could be continued with inputs of the work ongoing in the UNFCCC's Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) under Article 5, including to enhance understanding of tipping elements and tipping points, and possible early warning mechanisms for the potential triggering of key tipping elements, both ecological as well as societal. Based on this enhanced understanding, this collaboration between the SBI Loss and Damage second phase could recommend appropriate actions.

The SBI could also continue to explore macroeconomic tools to manage loss and damage to create a buffer for developing countries, as well as help the international community better plan for financial needs associated with the additional challenge posed by loss and damage. This work could complement, without pre-empting or replacing the need, the work required for the elaboration of the modalities of an institutional mechanism on loss and damage discussed above.

4. Role of the financial mechanism. The level of funding required to prevent, manage, and compensate for loss and damage related to slow-onset impacts varies greatly from country to country and between regions, although it is clear that overall significant amounts will be needed above and beyond financial needs for adaptation. Therefore, there is an immediate need for consideration of financial resources required related to loss and damage, in order to develop a collective understanding of where overlaps might occur with current adaptation finance and where there may be unique needs. Clearly resources specific for loss and damage will need to be new and additional to existing resources. Discussions on finance for loss and damage must be integrated into ongoing processes related to long-term finance.

To fully adhere to the precautionary principle in the context of loss and damage requires the support and implementation of proactive approaches to manage slow-onset climate hazards. Allocation of finance to specific actions related to loss and damage, particularly where synergies with adaptation are not sufficient, must become part of the conversation on long-term finance.

B. Promoting cooperation and coordination outside the Convention

While the UNFCCC is the relevant policy forum to take concrete action to address loss and damage, there are many critical issues that do not fall within its mandate and the scope of its work. Therefore, the extent to which the Convention is able to achieve its objective under Article 2 will have consequences for matters outside the Convention, and the Convention should seek to collaborate with other institutions to address such issues. As mentioned before, the AC could be requested to play an active role and engage in actions necessary outside the Convention, in accordance with its role of promoting synergy and strengthening engagement with national, regional and international organisations, centres and networks, in order to enhance the implementation of adaptation actions, in particular in developing-country Parties, including to identify and recommend appropriate actions to address emerging needs and gaps. The AC could be charged with carrying out an element of a continued work programme on loss and damage focused on external cooperation and coordination. Such work could include:

1. Integrating the work of regional centres and networks. Regional centres and networks could have an important role to play in the assessment and addressing of loss and damage, enhancing synergies related to research and regionally appropriate mechanisms. The AC could incorporate this coordination into its work plan with regard to the work related to regional centres. The role that some institutions are already playing, such as the CCRIF on regional risk transfer mechanisms, and SPREP and CCCCC supporting research, modelling, and decision-making, as well as project implementation, exemplifies the role that these actors could have both in the context of an international mechanism, as well as under a second phase of the SBI work programme.

2. Climate change-induced displacement, migration and planned relocation. The Adaptation Framework already calls for work on measures to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change-induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at the national, regional and international levels.1 The COP has the capacity to make recommendations to other international bodies along these lines; the Doha outcome could specifically target this issue and call for joint discussions with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration as part of the SBI Loss and Damage Work Programme Second Phase, with the collaboration of the AC. Existing international frameworks dealing with issues of displacement and migration will need to be expanded to handle movement resulting from the pressures imposed by slow-onset processes.

3. Making international finance respond to the loss and damage context. The Convention, as the policy-relevant forum, has the capacity to convene discussions on how financial measures could assist countries in coping with loss and damage, for example deferral of payments to international institutions, debt relief, and other similar measures. Financial shocks and lost development opportunities from the potential for large-scale economic disruption brought on by slow-onset climate change hazards will require significant coordination of international trade and investment flows. Addressing loss and damage resulting from slow-onset processes, in the context of sustainable development, will require different approaches than those used to address financial shocks resulting from extreme events. For example, slow-onset impacts may permanently diminish the tourism industry in many developing countries due to the loss of ecosystems, animal and plant diversity, and other tourist-attracting resources. These issues need to be considered as part of the Loss and Damage Work Programme Second Phase, in collaboration with actors outside the UNFCCC, and could be systematically addressed through the international mechanism.


1. Decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 14(f).

Loss and damage in Africa

A REPORT by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides robust scientific information on what can be expected from changes in weather and climate extremes in various regions and sub-regions of Africa.1 Droughts have affected the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Southern Africa particularly since the end of the 1960s. The report finds that, in relative terms, Africa (especially Madagascar and Mozambique) has the largest increase in physical exposure to tropical cyclones. Damages from tropical cyclones are perhaps most commonly associated with extreme wind, but storm-surge and freshwater flooding from extreme rainfall generally cause the great majority of damage and loss of life. Additionally, projected sea level rise is expected to further compound tropical cyclone surge impacts.

Future impacts of changing climate extremes may result in a broad range of impacts on both human and ecosystems including economic losses, impacts on different sectors such as tourism and agriculture, on urban settlements and on access to water. The IPCC report also finds with high confidence that economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters are increasing, albeit with large inter-annual variability.

Agriculture is affected directly by both temperature extremes and rainfall, and is the economic sector most vulnerable and exposed to climate extremes in Africa. As average temperatures rise, so will heat extremes. Crops, animals and humans have physiological limits to the temperature extremes they can tolerate, and crop and livestock productivity will decrease with increasing temperatures. Moreover, increasing nighttime temperatures can also reduce crop yields. Overall, significant yield reductions are anticipated in most major crops and most major regions in Africa. Average predicted production losses by 2050 for African crops include 22% in maize, 17% sorghum, 17% millet, 18% groundnut, and 8% cassava.2 Yield loss due to changes in both temperature and rainfall will seriously affect food security across the African continent, threatening permanent loss and damage to both lives and livelihoods.

Permanent loss and damage from slow-onset disasters will go far beyond economic loss - livelihoods will be lost, territory will have to be abandoned, and migrants from non-productive lands will lose both homes and community. In Egypt, almost 800,000 hectares of land has already been lost in the Nile Delta due to sea level rise and saline intrusion; an estimated 12-15% of the productive land in the delta could be lost in the coming century, and 6-7 million persons may eventually be forced to migrate.3

'Low-lying coastal areas and mega-deltas are major sources of environmentally induced migration. This is particularly true in countries such as Bangladesh and Viet Nam, and regions such as the Egyptian Nile Delta and the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Those regions are vulnerable to slow-onset environmental phenomena related to sea level rise and change in precipitation patterns and are also increasingly affected by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, storm surges, soil erosion and soil salinisation.'4

Many people will be forced to move from affected areas, including from low-lying islands and coastlines and from areas affected by permanent changes to the ecosystems and other resources on which they depend for their lives and livelihoods. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of people impacted by natural disasters in Africa has doubled in the past two decades, up from 9 million in 1989 to nearly 17 million in 2008.5 Those most vulnerable to climate change will be hardest hit, particularly in drought-prone areas. Industrialised countries should do their fair share in helping these people build new lives, and in some instances accept their fair share of the people exiled from their homes and countries by climate change. The complicated issue of displacement, migration and planned relocation requires adequate and considered attention, including further research and collaboration among a range of relevant international institutions. The African Union adopted the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (or Kampala Convention), though it has not entered into effect. The Convention would be the first legally binding regional treaty recognising the multiple causes of internal displacement, establishing state responsibilities for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons whose displacement is the result of 'natural or human made disasters, including climate change.'6


1 IPCC. 2012. Summary for Policymakers. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-19.

2 Schlenker, W. and D.B. Lobell. 2010. Robust negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture. Environmental Research Letters 5, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/5/1/014010.

3 Arab Republic of Egypt. 2010. Egypt National Environmental, Economic and Development Study (NEEDS) for climate change. Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, Cairo.

4 Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. 2012. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants to the United Nations General Assembly. A/67/299.

5 UN OCHA. 2009. Climate change to accelerate displacement in Africa, top UN official warns. New York.

6 African Union. African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

Loss and damage in Asia

RECENT climate change events across Asia - including the 2010 floods in Pakistan, 2011 floods in Thailand, worsening soil degradation in Iraq, and the increasing loss of Himalayan glaciers - have impacted millions of people and resulted in tragic loss of life and livelihoods, with massive social, environmental and economic costs. For example:

Widespread flooding in Pakistan in 2010 affected 20 million people, killing 1,781,1 displacing millions, and damaging 1.6 million homes. The World Bank places the cost of damage at $10 billion ($5 billion in the agriculture sector) while the estimated recovery and reconstruction needs range from $6.7 billion to $8.9 billion.2 As well as damage to infrastructure, which affected governance, education, energy, business and communications, the flooding led to widespread health risks from malaria, cholera, and severe malnutrition. With the economy heavily dependent on agriculture, the economic impacts are grave: 5.3 million jobs were lost, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO); growth dropped from a predicted 4.5% to -2%/-5%; and the $55 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt will grow as Pakistan is forced to borrow in order to recover.3 The 2011 floods in Sindh and Balochistan further impeded recovery, affecting 9 million people - most of whom were still suffering from the previous devastating flooding - and inflicting $3.7 billion in damage, $1.8 billion to agriculture alone.4 Minimum reconstruction costs amount to an additional $2.7 billion. Many of those displaced by the 2010 floods remain so.

Flooding also afflicted Thailand in 2011, affecting more than 3 million people - killing over 700, destroying 766,267 homes and inundating 1.3 million hectares of paddy.5 The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) estimated that the total cost of damage and loss across all sectors was 1.425 trillion baht ($45 billion) and the cost of recovery around $47.5 billion.6 Among others, the manufacturing sector reported losses of over $31.7 billion, the agriculture sector $1.3 billion, and the housing sector sustained losses estimated at $2.7 billion. Seven major industrial estates were flooded, and the production of cars and electronic goods was suspended, with knock-on effects for global supplies, prices and labour. The World Bank estimated that the economic impact would include a reduction in real GDP growth of 1.1 percentage points. The flooded industrial estates had an accumulative insurance of $19.5 billion, of which 30% may be paid out.7

Himalayan glaciers, the crucial 'Water Towers of Asia', are disappearing, with transformational implications for the 1.3 billion people making their livelihoods in the river basins fed by the glaciers, including from predicted increases in winter drought and summer floods. In Nepal, the annual costs of the floods and landslides were $14.7 million between 2001 and 2007, according to the World Bank.8 The droughts cost Nepal up to 30% of its rice yield in 2007, as well as electricity, which would have otherwise been generated using hydro-power. As the glaciers melt, they form glacial lakes, some of which are growing so fast that they pose a threat of glacial lake outburst floods. The cost of assets that are at risk of being lost to these floods is between $1.8 and $8.7 million,9 not to mention the number of lives at risk, and the potential loss of traditional knowledge and practices developed in this unique part of the world.

In Syria, increased deserti-fication threatens food, water, and job security. Across the region agriculture will continue to bear the brunt of the impacts of desertification, with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimating an additional $241 million per year is needed to counteract the effects on nutrition.10 The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that in Syria, 79% of the population is at risk from desertification and that the projected agricultural production capacity is likely to decrease by 16% in coming years.11 Given that agriculture provides 30% of the workforce with employment and 25% of the country's GDP, this drop in productivity is extremely worrying: there is already 26% youth unemployment. The Syrian government reported to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification that it has seen a 61% decrease in pasture productivity and estimates the loss of crops at 5.7 billion Syrian pounds per year. Economic impacts are already evident; Syria now only produces cotton for its domestic market.12 After a severe drought in 2006-09 led to basic crop yield dropping by 79% in some areas and vegetation for grazing to disappear, 1.5 million people migrated to urban centres as the income of severely affected populations nosedived by 90%, according to the World Bank.13


1 Reliefweb

2 World Bank: Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment (2010)

3 Brookings

4 Pakistan Government: Flood Impact Assessment (2011)

5 Wikipedia - original sources in Thai

6 UNESCAP: Thailand floods damage and loss assessment: lessons learned

7 Guy Carpenter: Floods in Thailand

8 World Bank, GFDRR: Vulnerability, Risk Reduction and Adaptation: Nepal

9 World Resources Report

10 IFPRI: Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation

11 FAO 29th Regional Conference for the Near East: Implications for Agriculture

12 IISD: climate change and conflict in the Middle East

13 World Bank Development Horizons First/Second Quarter 2010: Climate Change: Middle East faces looming challenges

Loss and damage in Small Island Developing States

RECENT climate change events in Small Island Developing States provide vivid examples of loss and damage. These events have affected lives and livelihoods, with massive social, environmental and economic costs. For example:

The 2010 hurricane season in the Caribbean was the third most active hurricane season on record, with most number of named storms, according to historical records.1 The economic impact on the region became unmanageable, requiring countries to look for support outside existing regional risk management mechanisms, such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). In the case of St. Lucia, for example, total damage after Hurricane Tomas was estimated at about 34% of its total GDP,2 and the country sought immediate assistance nearing $8.2 million in the form of loans through the Rapid Credit Facility and the Emergency Natural Disaster Assistance of the International Monetary Fund.

Salinisation in the Marshall Islands and the associated decline in agricultural yields have been reported over the last decade. Extreme events such as droughts and tropical cyclones can lead to increased salinity of soils, thus impairing food production. Higher rates of erosion and coastal land loss are expected in many small islands as a consequence of the projected rise in sea levels. In the case of the Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands, it is estimated that for a 1-m rise in sea level, as much as 80% of total land could be lost to production.3 Production of key staple crops has been disrupted by climatic extremes such as typhoons and droughts, shifting consumption to imported foods, putting pressure on the national economy and with implications for nutrition and health.4 FAO also reports increasing pressure on coastal and marine environments, a particular concern given the role of seafood in the diet.

Three different slow-onset processes threaten coral reefs around the world - sea level rise, an increase in ocean temperatures and ocean acidification - as well as extreme warming periods of shorter duration. Potential long-lasting or permanent impacts on coral reefs from climate change are immensely troubling, as reef fish provide fundamental food security for millions, and developing countries earn substantial amounts of foreign exchange from reef tourism. Extreme heat in 2010 put the world's coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists feared widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also these extremely important fisheries.5


1. NOAA. 2012. 2010 Atlantic Season Hurricane Database. NOAA, Maryland.

2. IMF. 2010. Request for Disbursement Under the Rapid Credit Facility and Emergency Natural Disaster Assistance - St Lucia. International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC.

3. IPCC Third Assessment Report, 2004.

4. FAO. 2008. Climate Change and Food Security in (Pacific Island Counties. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

5. Gillis, J. 2010. Extreme heat bleaches coral, and threat is seen. New York Times, 20 September.

Loss and damage in Latin America

RECENT climate change impacts from Latin America provide vivid examples to consider in the current assessment of approaches to addressing loss and damage:

Long-term drought in the northern states of Mexico has devastated cattle herds and crops. Over the last 12 months, 350,000 head of cattle starved to death in the state of Chihuahua alone. Maize production in 2011 in Chihuahua dropped from 100,000 metric tons to just 500 tons. The head of the Climate Change Programme at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City wondered, 'Is it really a drought, or the region's new climate?' A permanent shift in the regional climate would mean thousands of farmers losing use of their lands and their livelihoods.

Flooding in Colombia and Venezuela in 2010 left devastating consequences for society, with hundreds dead, millions of people homeless, and damage in the order of billions of dollars to their economies. In Colombia alone, the government estimate of the damage caused was up to $6 billion. The floods and landslides affected 70% of the country and left homeless more than 2.2 million people.

Andean glaciers are rapidly receding, and this will continue due to slow-onset temperature rise, with significant near-term impacts, including impacts on mountain ecosystems, on water supplies for major cities, and on farmers' livelihoods and food security in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. As with other slow-onset impacts, such as sea level rise and the associated salinisation of aquifers, where access to freshwater is slowly eroded, the right to development is at the same time actively undermined. Rather than increasing options to improve livelihoods, life in mountain areas becomes more and more unviable.

The region of Central America has been severely hit by extreme events in the last few decades, washing away years of investment in sustainable development. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch struck when Central America was just recovering from the economic effects of El Nio 1997-98, whose floods, forest fires, and droughts had weakened the countries' productive systems. Honduras and Nicaragua were the hardest hit, but the damage spread through the whole region. The Pan American Health Organisation reported that this event left almost 10,000 dead, and destroyed almost 4,000 schools, 600 health centres and 1,800 water and sanitation services. The recovery from this disaster took years, with some areas still showing signs of the devastation today.

*Third World Resurgence No. 264/265, August/September 2012, pp 38-47