Loss and Damage, why it’s vital to get it right.

Colin McQuistan

May 27th, 2016

At the COP21 Paris climate talks the issue of Loss and Damage was firmly cemented in the global agreement under Article 8[1]. This agreement sets the agenda for climate action and the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage recognises that for many people climate change is already a reality. Climate change is impacting people’s lives and livelihoods and for some adaptation is already too late.

Climate change exacerbates existing hazards

Climate change hits the poorest hardest, those who are least responsible for the problem in the first place. In Practical Action projects across Africa, South Asia and Latin America we are hearing stories about the heightened uncertainty as changing climates exacerbate existing hazards. Poor people do not differentiate climate change from climate variability, for them the consequences are the same: crops are failing, water supplies becoming less reliable, ecosystems are changing and lives and livelihoods are under threat.

CC Impacts

The impacts of climate change are well documented, global and affect small island states, Africa, South Asia and the Arctic the most[2].

In May 2016, Practical Action attended the climate change talks in Bonn. The first global gathering since 177 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York one month ago. The urgency to sign the agreement is a clear demonstration of its importance. Climate agreements have previously taken months if not years to get the signatures necessary to start talking about their implementation. At last political will for action is growing but for loss and damage there is still a lot to do.

Climate justice

Critical to progress on loss and damage is the recognition that this is a rights issue. The climate agreement must integrate the rights package in its entirety; this means: human rights, the rights of indigenous people, gender equality, food security, ecosystem integrity and intergenerational equity. To protect these rights means we need to stay below 1.5oC. If we can reduce emissions drastically with ambitious mitigation action; then the challenge of adaptation will be lessened and the loss and damage burden will be reduced.


Poor people around the world are facing climate impacts everyday.

In Bonn Practical Action along with partners in the loss and damage network highlighted this challenge in a well-attended side event. We started the session with a presentation of the collective impacts of climate change on the poorest, highlighting that for many these impacts are irreversible. Many of our Pumpkin communities in Bangladesh are families that have lost their land to accelerated erosion. Compensation and pumpkins will help, but it will not restore their fields, their houses and the numerous cultural sites that have been washed away. Many poor people are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, but what do you do when the ecosystem faces irreversible impacts? For many coastal communities sea water acidification is destroying once productive coastal fisheries, and sea level rise is converting coastal fields into areas only suitable for aquaculture due to rising salinity.

Bonn session - Copy

Loss and Damage side event organised by the @lossdamage Network held at Bonn Climate Change talks

Recognising irreversible environmental change

Loss and Damage is an opportunity to raise the profile of our collective inadequacy to mitigate emissions. Our addiction to fossil fuels, to easy solutions and to profit over the environment or human society, and our inability to prioritise long term, social and environmental benefits in favour of purely economic returns. This goes to the heart of what Fritz Schumacher wrote so eloquently in 1973 in “Small is Beautiful” and it is vital today that we heed this message, before it is too late for everyone.

Man talks of a battle with Nature, forgetting that if he won that battle, he would find himself on the losing side” E.F Schumacher

[1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

[2] http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

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