Addressing climate-induced losses and damages, and the needs of the vulnerable

February 18, 2023

Climate-induced losses and damages are felt across the world, and developing countries such as Sri Lanka are amongst the most vulnerable. From food systems to livelihoods, climate impacts are felt across countries to regions, where immediate action is needed to ensure climate resilience is considered a priority hand in hand with economic development. The need to urgently focus on climate-induced loss and damage remains vital, through the engagement of different stakeholders so as to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable to climate change are addressed. 

Assessing loss and damage on the ground

Among the components needed to address climate-induced losses and damages is the need to assess loss and damage at the ground level. This includes identifying losses and damages at the sectoral levels as well as the different assessments needed to identify the best means of addressing them. 

For example, assessments could be based on the prioritization of addressing climate-induced losses and damages within a sector. For example, in the food sector, this would be seen as a key priority when harvests are damaged due to climate-induced impacts and livelihoods affected. Additionally, assessments could be based on losses and damages based on economic aspects and the valuation of losses and damages incurred. This could include the loss of harvest, the number of man hours of work which have been lost due to extreme weather, damages to property etc. 

However, there also remains the need to assess non-economic impacts. This could include mental health impacts; attachment and sense of belonging lost where people are relocated due to the adverse effects; or loss of culture and way of life. It is important that there are ways to assess these elements and integrate them into climate action.

Sector-specific impacts and interventions

In many countries, when focusing on sector-specific losses and damages, those that are a priority include the ones connected to natural resources. This includes sectors such as food systems, water resources, biodiversity, and forestry. Additionally, infrastructure and industries also remain of importance interlinked with livelihoods and the economic empowerment of countries. 

However, it is also important to look at sectors such as the transport sector, which is impacted due to aggravated disasters and extreme weather events. Many countries do not segregate the financial investment to address the losses and damages to infrastructure by sector, and take the finance needs for building back, or recovering from the damages incurred. However, an approach which determines financial investments due to such impacts could contribute to understanding which sector is most vulnerable to climate impacts, thereby identify interventions which are sectoral through specific support provided. 

It is also important to recognize that climate-induced human mobility could be an impact across several sectors. This could be in food systems and water resources, when human mobility is triggered due to the lack of food as well as water. Impacts could be felt in the health sector as well, where the spread of diseases, injury due to extreme weather events, mental health, and stress-related issues triggered by trauma need to be addressed. While these are not necessarily marked explicitly as issues linked to climate impacts, at present, science and evidence indicate a strong interlink between different sectors and the need for taking holistic approaches to addressing vulnerabilities among communities and ecosystems, and also the need to take urgent action and mobilise means of implementation needed to address climate-related losses and damages.

Frameworks and mechanisms

There exists diverse frameworks and mechanisms that connect to climate impacts and losses and damages. A few among these include the Paris Agreement focused on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Management. 

There are also several local, national, and international institutional mechanisms which focus on this thematic area. The need for effective coordination for successful climate action, as well as policy and planning are among the key needs highlighted by research and country reporting under the UNFCCC process. This includes institutional capacity-building, the availability of data and information which could provide avenues for informed decision-making, and gender-responsive and inclusive processes.

Among other aspects for urgent scaled-up climate interventions focused on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable to climate change are building trust (for example the communities’ trust building for inclusive and participatory processes,) and clarity on priorities and mandates which help to build trust among different stakeholders. 

Additionally, building partnerships which will help mobilise means and support, such as climate finance, knowledge and data management, or technology transfer could contribute to taking urgent climate action at a faster, with more support provision which is not necessarily by governments, but also non-state actors such as the private sector. To this end, many identify as beneficial to have support for actions aimed at addressing climate-induced losses and damages, public-private partnership, community and local government-led initiatives, as well as contributions of science and evidence to generate better outcomes through evidence-based policy and action. 

Note: This article builds on the research and evidence presented at the international writeshop on linking climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and loss and damage, held in Colombo Sri Lanka with the participation of researchers focused on climate related research in the Asia Pacific region. This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍