Center for American Progress

RELEASE: In Climate Talks, Loss and Damage Is an Often Misunderstood but Critical Concept
Press Release

RELEASE: In Climate Talks, Loss and Damage Is an Often Misunderstood but Critical Concept

Washington, D.C. — As the parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, work to craft a new international climate agreement to be finalized this December in Paris, the topic of “loss and damage” has emerged as an important area of negotiation. The meaning of the term, however, is not well known by those who are not intimately involved in the negotiations process. The Center for American Progress has therefore released an issue brief that discusses the meaning of loss and damage; its relationship to climate adaptation; and the need to distinguish it from climate compensation, which is a red-line issue for many parties, including the United States.

Loss and damage refers to permanent loss or repairable damage caused by the manifestations of climate change, including severe weather events or slow-onset threats, such as sea level rise and desertification. It can refer not only to economic harm but also to loss of life, ecosystems, or cultural heritage.

The area of climate action that addresses loss and damage is most likely to be conflated with adaptation or compensation. But addressing loss and damage involves a broader range of activities than traditional adaptation. Moreover, it does not necessitate a focus on legal or moral concepts such as liability; instead, it can have a collaborative, forward-looking focus.

“Loss and damage is often confused with climate compensation, but the concepts are distinct,” said Gwynne Taraska, CAP Senior Policy Advisor and author of the brief. “All parties to the UNFCCC support efforts to address loss and damage, but this does not mean that topics such as compensation or liability are under consideration for the Paris agreement.”

As a recent series of droughts, storms, and wildfires in the United States and around the world attest, addressing loss and damage will be essential to any effective, comprehensive climate effort going forward. All countries should be able to express the view that emissions mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are necessary elements of climate action without fear of setting a precedent—or being accused of setting a precedent—for a liability mechanism.

Click here to read the brief.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.

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