Identifying loss and damage is tough – we need a pragmatic but science-based approach

It’s often hard to judge whether a drought is weather-related or climate related and whether people are displaced by the drought or conflicts

The ongoing debate about climate-induced loss and damage is rife with conflicts. Different perspectives, political views, and ideologies make it difficult for parties to agree on a way forward.

Since 2019, the Danish NGO DanChurchAid has been monitoring projects, implemented by our local partners, that address loss and damage. I believe our experience can provide some helpful perspective for the ongoing negotiations.

As an NGO working across the humanitarian and development nexus, we were already monitoring, and reporting, on projects related to cutting emissions and adapting to climate change. However, we also wanted to learn more about the efforts to address loss and damage.

Loss and damage is a reality now. The people we meet in the drought-affected Turkana region in Kenya, the flooded villages in South Sudan, and the farmers who lost their livelihoods due to cyclones in Malawi, know what we are talking about.  

Defining loss and damage

Yet at the international level, there is no agreed definition, and no accepted marker to identify the projects. Our solution was to develop our own methodology.

The support we give to communities to reduce exposure to climate-related hazards, for example by setting up an early warning system for cyclones, is labeled as ‘adaptation’.

Meanwhile, the provision of emergency response, for example by delivering cash to families who lost their belongings, is labeled ‘loss and damage’.

Morocco’s centuries-old irrigation system under threat from climate change

One of the first lessons we could draw is that attribution is difficult. Is a drought climate-related or weather related? And are people being displaced as a result of the drought or due to local conflicts?

It is not clear-cut and, in reality, it is often a combination of factors. For people on the ground, the label doesn’t matter. They are concerned about whether any support for them exists at all.

We have therefore chosen a pragmatic, but still science-based, approach. We talk about climate-associated loss and damage, rather than climate-induced loss and damage. A small but important difference that can determine whether a community will receive support or not from a future loss and damage fund. 

Funding streams

Our monitoring indicates that the projects are funded from a variety of funding sources, both humanitarian and long-term development funds. That is relevant for the negotiations about ‘funding arrangements’ for loss and damage.

Most of our support is directed to rapid-onset disasters, such as a hurricane, wh

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