At the heart of the new climate change agreement negotiated by 195 countries in Paris earlier this month is a list of fundamentals that appear in each new climate agreement: mitigation efforts, adaptation efforts, and commitments to support vulnerable nations. But in addition to these, the Paris Agreement addresses the new and evolving issue of “loss and damage” that had previously been treated as a subcategory of adaptation. The concept springs from the reality that there are some climate change impacts that cannot be adapted to—impacts that are so severe that they leave in their wake permanent or significantly damaging effects.
Loss and damage of this kind can arise from extreme weather events—such as the loss of lives and property in a cyclone—as well as from slow onset events, like the extinction of species that result from ecosystem shifts, the loss of arable land to desertification, or the complete disappearance of low-lying island nations. Given the current impacts of climate change that are already hitting vulnerable communities hard and are likely to intensify, constructive approaches to addressing loss and damage are needed.