Canadian Chair and Head of Ocean Sustainability, Governance & Management
World Maritime University
With every passing year, the effects of climate change are becoming more obvious and severe. At the same time, efforts to reduce GHG emissions are still lagging far behind what is needed to avoid significant loss & damage, suggesting the worst is yet to come. Efforts to provide appropriate remedies for loss & damage in the UN climate regime have so far failed. While these efforts are ongoing, it is becoming increasingly clear that a broad range of international regimes and domestic legal systems will be challenged to respond to calls for appropriate remedies for those harmed by loss & damage.
Loss & damage is not defined in the UN climate regime. The phrase ‘loss and damage’ appears to recognize two categories of harm. One category involves permanent harm, or irrecoverable ‘loss’, such as the loss of landmass from sea level rise. The second category involves reparable or recoverable ‘damage’, such as shoreline damage from storms. Other ways the concept of loss & damage has been delineated is between economic and non-economic loss & damage, and between slow onset and extreme weather events. Regardless of the approach, the focus has been on harm caused by human-induced climate change itself.
To understand loss and damage, it is important to consider the relationship between climate mitigation, adaptation and loss & damage. It is well recognized that the level of mitigation (or GHG emission reduction) affects the scale of loss & damage.
The more ambitious our collective mitigation effort, the less future loss & damage we will suffer. The relationship between adaptation and loss & damage is similarly close, but more complex. Adaptation can reduce loss and damage, but it often is not enough, and not everyone faced with loss and damage has the capacity to adapt.
The issue of displacement is illustrative of the complex inter-relationship between adaptation and loss & damage. If we take a hypothetical small island State that is unable to protect some or all of its territory from sea level rise, one might be inclined to view this as a failure of adaptation, and the resulting impact as loss & damage suffered by the residents of the affected small island State. However, the failure to protect its territory could either be as a result of technical adaptation limits, or it could be related to the lack of financial resources to implement the necessary measures.