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, 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.

World Weather Attributionhttps://www.worldweatherattribution.org/
This website provides attribution studies of recent observed extreme events.

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.

Guest blogs

Non-economic loss and damage: insights from the Pacific Islands
Rachel Clissold, Karen E McNamara, Ross Westoby and Alvin Chandra, 23 September 2021

What does climate change mean for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians?
Stephanie Dooper, University of Michigan, 24 April 2018

Climate change related non-economic losses are an important dimension of the Loss and Damage debate under the UNFCCC. This guest blog illustrates what a community can perceive as non-economic losses and what it undertakes to deal with them – in this case a community of Chippewa Indians from Bad River Bend of Lake Superior in northern US.

Recent reports & stories in the media

Who will pay for the damage caused by climate change?, BBC Future, 14 December 2021

Loss and damage: Who pays for the impacts of the heated Earth?, Climate Home, 3 December 2019

Storms in America and the Pacific are evidence of climate change, The Economist, 20 September 2018

The Unequal Burden of Climate Change, Emily Atkin in The New Republic, 18 September 2018

Not a silver bullet. Why the focus on insurance to address loss and damage is a distraction from real solutions., report by Heinrich Boell Foundation, 30 August 2018

When will the world’s polluters start paying for the mess they made?, Climate Home, 2 May 2018

Climate change and extreme weather: Science is proving the link, Deutsche Welle, 11 April 2018

Flooding and heavy rains rise 50% worldwide in a decade, figures show, The Guardian, 21 March 2018

Tonga Receives Record Insurance Payout Following Cyclone Gita, ReliefWeb, 20 February 2018

Cyclone Gita: Tonga devastated by worst storm in 60 years, The Guardian, 12 February 2018

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

Call for polluters to pay ‘climate damages tax’, 16 November 2017, Climate Home

No finance plan for climate change victims in draft UN decision, 14 November 2017, Climate Home

Caribbean diplomat calls for support to address hurricane losses, 13 November 2017, Climate Home

Loss and Damage under the UNFCCC process


09 January 2023
2023 will shape the Loss and Damage fund for years to come – have your say now, Olivia Serdeczny, Manjeet Dhakal, Sneha Pandey
Final decisions on a new Loss and Damage fund to help vulnerable countries recover from climate impacts will be made at COP28 in December. Here’s what you need to know about how the fund will be designed over the coming year.

09 December 2021
Facing the facts – the need for loss and damage finance can no longer be denied, Olivia Serdeczny, Adao Soares Barbosa, Hafij Khan, Sneha Pandey, Doreen Stabinsky
For years, developing countries have been calling for financial support in their efforts to address loss and damage – the unavoidable impacts of climate change that countries cannot adapt to. By the end of COP26, it became clear that the elephant in the room – failure on the part of developed countries to systematically provide L&D finance – can and will no longer be ignored.

20 December 2019
Loss and Damage at COP25 – a hard fought step in the right direction, Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel, Linda Siegele, Inga Menke
The Review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), undertaken at COP25, was an opportunity for a stronger commitment for action and support, including new and additional finance, capacity building and technical support. Long intense negotiations and a united position among developing countries of G77 and China, lead to an acceptable outcome.

17 December 2018
Progress on Loss and Damage in Katowice, Olivia Serdeczny, Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel, Linda Siegele
Developing countries were calling for the inclusion of Loss and Damage in the transparency framework and the Global Stocktake. We can now say: they succeeded. Under the newly adopted guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement, vulnerable countries will have a place to report climate-related losses, what they are doing to deal with them, which could well include the information on the help they need. What is more, assessing information on loss and damage will be part of the five-yearly exercise of evaluating the progress towards implementing the Paris Agreement.

14 September 2018
Loss and damage in the Paris Agreement rule book – state of play, Olivia Serdeczny
At the start of September, delegates from all countries met in Bangkok to progress work on developing the guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement, that is mandated to conclude by the end of this year at COP24 in Katowice. Building on consistent calls at negotiation sessions since Paris in December 2015, many developing countries argued that loss and damage (L&D) should be systematically considered in this context. This blog entry provides a snapshot of recent negotiations and their outcomes.

18 July 2018
Climate change loss & damage – an urgent, cross-cutting issue, Amanda Colombo, Frances Fuller, Laetitia De Marez
From unprecedented super charged tropical storms to record-breaking temperatures and ever more grim predictions of sea level rise, scientific evidence of current climatic events points to a new norm. These climatic events are rapidly pushing Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to the verge of their coping capacities, beyond which they will experience irreparable loss and damage. The Government of Belize hosted an event at the Office of the Commonwealth at the United Nations in New York to take a pragmatic look at the question: How can we increase understanding and international cooperation to address this urgent issue?

2 May 2018
How to ensure solutions really work – key questions for the Suva Expert Dialogue on Loss and Damage, Olivia Serdeczny, Inga Menke, Adelle Thomas
As experts gather at the Suva Expert Dialogue 2-3 May in Bonn, ministers and ambassadors from vulnerable countries renewed their call for support to cope with climate-related loss and damage. As discussions on possible solutions to loss and damage in developing countries progress over the next two days, it is worthwhile to highlight key questions that must be taken into account: responsibility, feasibility and affordability.

11 April 2018
The Suva Expert Dialogue: pushing the conversation on Loss and Damage, Olivia Serdeczny, Linda Siegele, Doreen Stabinsky
The Suva Expert Dialogue 2-3 May in Bonn, and the technical paper it is meant to inform, are important next steps to furthering collective understanding of approaches to address loss and damage, associated finance needs, and sources of support. Here’s what to expect from the two-two day meeting.

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.


27 November 2019
Towards a solid science base: Loss and Damage in the IPCC Special Reports on Land and Oceans and the Cryosphere by Emily Theokritoff, Claire Fyson, Adelle Thomas, Olivia Serdeczny, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner
This briefing which looks at how issues relevant for loss and damage, and particularly important to Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, have increased in prominence in the recent IPCC Special Reports. The reports agree that attributable climate change impacts are evident at today’s levels of warming. Even some extreme events, such as marine heat waves, are almost completely attributable to climate change, providing a solid underpinning for the loss and damage discourse.

25 October 2018
Good news! Loss and damage in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, Olivia Serdeczny, Claire Fyson
Small Island Developing States have long called for the inclusion of information on loss and damage in IPCC reports. What does the new Special Report on 1.5°C have to say?

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.


Making sense of the politics in the climate change loss and damage debate

Loss and damage costing and financing mechanisms: Caribbean outlook, Adelle Thomas, Inga Menke, and Olivia Serdeczny, Climate Analytics (2018)

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.

Cover photo by IFRC