Loss and damage

Current emission reduction commitments are out of step with the scientific urgency of tackling climate change, with current predictions suggesting that we will overshoot the critical 1.5-2°C threshold, putting the planet on a 4 to 6°C pathway of global warming.

Even if mitigation and adaptation efforts were to dramatically increase in the next decades, the Small Island Development States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will experience future losses due to climate change that they will likely not be able to recover from. Loss and damage thus refers to the negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people have not been able to cope with or adapt to. It can result from sudden-onset events (climate disasters, such as cyclones) as well as slow-onset processes (such as sea level rise). The dimensions of economic and non-economic losses include loss of ecosystems, cultural identity, indigenous knowledge and territory.

The pressure is growing to establish institutional arrangements to address loss and damage, pushed strongly by the LDCs and island nations. In Decision 2/CP.19 at COP19 in Warsaw in 2013, all Parties agreed to set up a new Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage with an Executive Committee and three year mandate to report back at COP22 in December 2016.
The mechanism has three main functions: enhancing knowledge and understanding of risk management approaches to loss and damage; strengthening dialogue and coordination among relevant stakeholders; and enhancing action and support including finance, technology and capacity building.

The WIM workplan for 2015-2016 was approved at COP20. Yet since then, progress has stalled. As a result, developing countries are pushing for Annex I states to endorse the principle of loss and damage in the Paris agreement, with the provision of a separate financing mechanism, separate to the UNFCCC’s adaptation structures.

In a separate (and less contested) decision, COP 22 also approved the framework for the WIM’s five-year rolling workplan.

Climate-related disasters have battered many regions in year 2017, leaving many vulnerable developing countries with enormous damages but a limited capacity to deal with them. With COP23 being hosted by a small island state, Fiji, vulnerable countries thought it was high time to address the issue of Loss and Damage head on. The result from the first ‘Islands COP’ is that it is obvious we are not driving in the fast lane however the goals are not out of sight either.

Gender dimensions

In order to fully understand loss and damage, it is necessary to identify those who are most vulnerable to the severe impacts of climate change. Women continue to be affected disproportionately by poverty and face ongoing social, economic and political barriers to equality in all parts of the world. As one of the groups which is subsequently most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, women will experience considerable losses that cannot be addressed by adaptation or development efforts. These impacts relate to loss of life, health impacts, nutrition and migration, among other aspects. 

In terms of non-economic losses resulting from climate change, the unpaid labour of women in families and communities is often not taken into account by conventional approaches. Adopting a gender lens therefore allows for an assessment of loss and damage that is not only based on financial impacts, but which addresses other forms of traditional or non-economic contributions to society, knowledge systems and culture.

Building on the gender-related knowledge gained in the fields of adaptation and disaster risk reduction, it is therefore essential to identify the various social indictors which lead to differing vulnerability to crisis, as well as to assess non-economic losses, and the different capacity needs and coping strategies available to men and women in specific contexts.

A 2012 UNDP report on integrating gender in disaster risk management in SIDS reflects that collection of baseline data, including sex‐disaggregated data, and gender analyses help to identify the different activities, conditions, needs, control over resources and access to development benefits and decision‐making between men and women.


Co-ordinated support is needed to prevent as much loss and damage as possible, in particular to ensure that risk management remains a priority, including with respect to provision of adequate and predictable finance.

More understanding is needed of options for the assessment, compensation or rehabilitation of non-economic losses in the context of climate change.

Furthermore, the following gender dimensions are relevant for the development of a loss and damage (L&D) work programme within the UNFCCC:

  • Ensuring women’s equitable participation in decision‐making and L&D activities: the conclusions on the Loss and Damage work programme within the UNFCCC have so far recognised the equitable participation of vulnerable persons, particularly women, in risk assessment processes. However, such participation needs to go beyond risk assessment and should be mainstreamed throughout the entire L&D decision‐making processes at all levels. 

    Having equitable participation of vulnerable populations will allow those most impacted by loss and damage to be a part of decisions that will help them to be more resilient to such impacts. The mandate for a L&D work programme includes engagement with stakeholders with relevant expertise but does not have a safeguard to include stakeholders of affected groups. In the L&D mechanism, affected groups, including women, should be prioritised for meaningful engagement and input at all levels. 
  • Assessing gender‐differentiated vulnerability and prioritised needs: future mechanisms on Loss and Damage should assess and prioritise the needs of vulnerable populations. Within this analysis, a division of labor, division of resources and needs must be assessed to determine differentiated vulnerabilities among men, women, boys and girls. Such data collection, assessments and analyses must be carried out in countries most vulnerable to the impacts of loss and damage so that this knowledge base brings clarity towards addressing L&D under the UNFCCC. 
  • Integrating women’s particular vulnerability in the L&D accounting processes: L&D mechanism is to be envisaged as an ongoing global effort, within which gender-responsiveness is necessary for an effective response. Constructive debates towards integrating women’s particular concerns in the L&D accounting processes will provide clear understanding on ‘deficits’ in adaptation (for delayed actions) and adaptation financing and consequent L&D needs in, particularly in LDCs, SIDS, and vulnerable African countries, with particular focus on women. 
  • Providing gender‐sensitive training, education and creating immediate and urgent actions to address L&D that are inclusive of vulnerable constituencies, particularly vulnerable women.