Loss and damage

Climate extremes, many now clearly attributable to human-caused climate change, cause devastating impacts across the globe. Loss and Damage – which means climate impacts exceeding the adaptive capacity of countries, communities and ecosystems – is already happening and has ramifications for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). These are impacts of slow onset processes like sea level rise or rising temperatures, and extreme events such as floods, or hurricanes and tropical cyclones. But what processes are in place to help these vulnerable countries address Loss and Damage, and what progress are they making? What scientific inputs are necessary to support and advance these processes? And what are the opportunities for the scientific community to contribute?

This page provides background material and key resources on loss and damage, including scientific studies and briefing material relating to the policy process under the UNFCCC.

Mozambique 2015 floods. Although their contribution to climate change is negligible, Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, such as Mozambique, are very vulnerable to climate impacts and have limited means to adapt to future climate change and recover from impacts already occurring, often with devastating effects on economic development. Photo credit: Africa Trade Magazine


Useful links

Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM)
The official page of the UNFCCC’s body designated to deal with Loss and Damage, where you can find background materials, decisions, conclusions and documents, reports of meetings of the WIM Executive Committee, and information about events.

Loss and damage in vulnerable countries initiative
This website by the Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative provides a host of empirical background and analysis on loss and damage.

Explainer: Dealing with the “loss and damage” caused by climate change
This Carbon Brief article provides a comprehensive overview of the key terms of loss and damage negotiations.

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world
An interactive map, produced by the Carbon Brief, of attribution studies done for extreme weather events around the globe.

World Weather Attribution
This website provides attribution studies of recent observed extreme events.

Recent stories in the media

What it’s like to run a country that could be destroyed by climate change 13 February 2018, Vox
The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda on the lessons of Hurricane Irma.

Scientists Can Now Blame Individual Natural Disasters on Climate Change 2 January 2018, Scientific American
Extreme event attribution is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of climate science

Call for polluters to pay ‘climate damages tax’, 16 November 2017, Climate Home
Disappointed by slow progress at UN talks in Bonn, 50 organisations and individuals demand a fossil fuel levy to compensate victims of climate change impacts

No finance plan for climate change victims in draft UN decision, 14 November 2017, Climate Home
Efforts to raise cash for those hit hardest by global warming were deferred to 2018 in “loss and damage” text adopted by negotiators in Bonn on Tuesday

Caribbean diplomat calls for support to address hurricane losses, 13 November 2017, Climate Home
Hurricane Irma cost Antigua and Barbuda $250m but insurance paid out just $6m, says diplomat, calling for more support at UN climate talks in Bonn

Looking for a happy ending to the 2017 climate disaster movie, 2 November 2017, Climate Home
The Fijian presidency and negotiators must do more at this month’s UN climate talks to help the victims of global warming impacts

Loss and Damage under the UNFCCC process

The history of L&D in the context of climate negotiations dates back to 1991 when the Alliance of Small Island States called for a mechanism that would compensate countries affected by sea level rise. Over time, more and more vulnerable countries realized that they too are affected by climate change that is beyond their coping capacities. The idea of a mechanism that would help them in addressing loss and damage gained wider support. The concept of loss and damage made it into a decision coming out of a COP when in 2010 the so-called loss and damage work programme was initiated at COP16, which finally lead to the establishment at COP19 in 2013 of a body to deal specifically with issues relating to loss and damage: the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (or WIM for short). With the inclusion of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, loss and damage has now become firmly installed as a thematic pillar under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For an excellent overview of the process and dynamics of leading to the establishment of the WIM see Vanhala & Hestbaek and Calliari.

For an in-depth insight into how loss and damage emerged in the context of the UNFCCC and for a thorough assessment of the implications of the Paris Agreement for loss and damage see the in-depth analysis by Mace & Verheyen.


26 January 2018
Preparing for the Suva Expert Dialogue – getting Loss and Damage right, Olivia Serdeczny
What is wrong with the current financial instruments meant to address climate-induced loss and damage in developing countries, and what is needed instead? Most financial instruments that have been proposed in the context of loss and damage do not solve the problems developing countries face. Financial instruments that transfer risks can provide some relief. But these too will reach their limits as the risks of loss and damage turn into certainties under mounting climate change.

20 November 2017
Loss and Damage at COP23 – goals, roadblocks and detours, Olivia Serdeczny
COP23 was hosted by a small island state, Fiji, and vulnerable countries thought it was high time to address the issue of Loss and Damage head on. The result from the first ‘islands COP’ is that it is obvious we are not driving in the fast lane however the goals are not out of sight either. This blog analyses the outcomes of COP23 on the issue of Loss and Damage and identifies next steps to move it forward.

01 November 2017
A year of climate extremes: a case for Loss & Damage at COP23, Dr Adelle Thomas, Dr Bill Hare, Olivia Serdeczny, Luis Zamarioli, Dr Fahad Saeed, Dr Mouhamed Ly, Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner
Climate extremes are already causing devastating impacts across the globe. Fiji, the first island nation to lead a UN climate summit, COP23, has ensured that the issue of Loss and Damage is high on the political agenda. This blog highlights regional examples of recent climate extremes affecting SIDS and LDCs, and details what needs to be done at COP23 to assist in limiting future impacts.

23 August 2017
Island states need better data to manage climate losses, Dr Adelle Thomas
Loss and damage – an emerging issue in climate negotiations – is not just a future threat to highly vulnerable small island developing states (SIDS): it is happening now. This blog describes the existing methods that SIDS are using to assess and manage loss and damage, as outlined in a recent study, which featured interviews with negotiators from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and analysed the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of AOSIS member countries.

March 2016
The Warsaw International Mechanism – What has happened until now and what are the next big steps?, Olivia Serdeczny, Manjeet Dhakal
A report on the outcomes of the second meeting of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM), which took place in February 2016.

Loss and Damage and the IPCC

Given that loss and damage has only recently been incorporated into the UNFCCC’s work, the concept was not sufficiently well developed for incorporation into the IPCC’s fifth assessment reports (AR5). The term was only used 30 times in the whole of IPCC WGII AR5, and was not listed in the 30-page glossary (Van Der Geest & Warner, 2015). However, since 2013 an extensive information base on loss and damage has developed, with over 100 peer-reviewed publications available and likely many more forthcoming.

A COP22 decision in 2016 asked the Executive Committee of the WIM to “ensure that the best available science is highlighted” in the WIM’s work (UNFCCC, 2016). The need for scientific information on loss and damage was thus explicitly voiced by governments and collectively supported at COP22. As the scientific arm of the UNFCCC, the IPCC is the right body to provide the best available science as guidance for work under the UNFCCC, and therefore the IPCC’s upcoming reports need to consolidate the available scientific literature on loss and damage and its related concepts. Without such scientific information, policy makers will be poorly equipped to adequately address the issue and to fulfil the mandate of the WIM.


16 May 2017
“It’s complicated” – loss and damage in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Olivia Serdeczny
This blog examines how the draft outline of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report doesn’t contain an explicit reference to loss and damage but will deal with “residual risks”, “adaptation limits” and “attribution.” Should this outline be adopted at the next IPCC plenary, it would be a missed opportunity to bring the entire spectrum of loss and damage available in the scientific literature into focus and support vulnerable countries in preparing do deal with it.

7 May 2017
IPCC special reports on land, oceans and ice, Claire Fyson
In addition to the sixth assessment report and the special report on 1.5°C, the IPCC has two other special reports in the works: one on how climate change impacts land and another on oceans and cryosphere. Both are of great importance to vulnerable countries, like small islands. Although there will not be an explicit reference to the issue of loss and damage, thanks to a strong push by vulnerable countries both outlines now incorporate some of its core components, like climate change attribution, residual risk and adaptation limits.


Management of loss and damage in small island developing states: Implications for a 1.5°C or warmer world Thomas, A. and Benjamin, L.Regional Environmental Change (2017)
This paper explores existing methods that SIDS are using to assess and manage loss and damage. Authors interviewed negotiators from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and analysed the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of AOSIS member countries.

Non-economic losses from climate change: opportunities for policy-oriented research, Olivia Maria Serdeczny, Steffen Bauer & Saleemul Huq, Climate and Development (2017)
This article identifies the opportunities for engagement on the topic of non-economic losses from climate change under the existing mechanisms under the UNFCCC.

Loss and damage under the UNFCCC – what relationship to the Hyogo Framework
The Hyogo Framework is a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction efforts during the next decade. Its goal is to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015 – in lives, and in the social, economic, and environmental assets of communities and countries. This background paper outlines the key characteristics of loss and damage associated with climate change and explains the risks of addressing loss and damage under the umbrella of Disaster Risk Reduction.

Non-economic loss and damage in the context of climate change – understanding the challenges
This discussion paper outlines the main challenges that non-economic loss and damage present to policy-making and provides recommendations on how to address them.

Non-economic loss and damage – addressing the forgotten side of climate change impacts
This briefing paper outlines the key characteristics of non-economic loss and damage and provides recommendations on how to address them.

Loss and damage in Africa
This report published by UNECA/ACPC in 2014 outlines the challenges and limitations of existing institutional arrangements and presents options for institutional arrangements on loss and damage under the UNFCCC.