Into Unknown Territory: The limits to adaptation and reality of loss and damage from climate impacts

Report / Paper

Into Unknown Territory: The limits to adaptation and reality of loss and damage from climate impacts

AUTHORS: The briefing paper has been compiled by Tom Sharman with input provided by Harjeet Singh (ActionAid International), Kit Vaughan (CARE International), Sven Harmeling and Sönke Kreft (Germanwatch) and Sandeep Chamling Rai (WWF International).


June 2012


 The concept of loss and damage is increasingly important because we have not mitigated or adapted to climate change in time: whatever we do now, there will still be losses and irreversible impacts. Current emission reduction commitments are out of step with the scientific urgency of tackling climate change. We are likely to overshoot the critical 2°C threshold, putting the planet on a 4 to 6°C pathway of global warming. The World Bank estimates that even in a 2°C world, adaptation costs for developing countries will amount to a minimum of US$70 billion by 2020 and to up to 100 billion a year by 2050.These figures do not cover the costs of hard-to-measure issues such as ecosystem degradation, misery, loss of life or capacity building, and the actual costs could easily double. Recent figures for potential damage to ocean systems in a 4°C world estimate the economic cost alone at US$2 trillion per year by the end of this century. While globally we are now committed to permanent and irreversible loss and damage, we can still  drastically reduce the extent of climate impacts. Bigger and faster cuts to greenhouse gas emissions can reduce the amount of damage and resources needed for climate adaptation. This paper contextualises issues around loss and damage as a result of climate change and demonstrates the urgent necessity for a range of approaches to address it through scaled up adaptation and mitigation measures.To ensure that climate impacts on loss and damage are addressed, it is recommended that:1. developed countries continue to urgently pursue mitigation strategies: the drivers of loss and damage must be tackled head on by shifting to low-carbon development pathways globally. Developed countries must increase their ambition level to more than 40% emission reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and over 80% by 2050. Developed countries must provide finance, technology and capacity building to assist developing countries to invest in adaptation and disaster risk reduction and to transition their development onto low-carbon and climate-resilient pathways.2. decision-makers must refocus existing approaches and massively scale up resources to address vulnerability, building resilience and adaptive capacity, especially of the most vulnerable people, communities and ecosystems.3. Building on existing architecture, such as the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the Cancún Adaptation Framework, climateproofed disaster risk reduction needs to be dramatically scaled-up through infusion of financial resources. 4. The limits to adaptation are increasingly going to be exceeded and the international community, recognising the precautionary principle and the role of the UNFCCC, needs to discuss proposals for mechanisms that can address rehabilitation and compensation.