Framing Loss and Damage from Climate Change as the Failure of Sustainable Development
Debates around “Loss and Damage” (L&D) from anthropogenic climate change have expanded rapidly since the adoption of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) in 2013. Despite the urgent need for scientific best practice to inform policies to avoid, minimize and address loss and damage, most recently emphasized in 2019 at the COP 25 review of WIM in Madrid, the nascent research field faces internal disagreements and lacks a coherent conceptual framing of L&D, which hinder scientific progress and practical implementation. We suggest that the most consistent and fruitful approach to framing and dealing with L&D is by understanding it as resulting from a chain of failures or inabilities to maintain a Sustainable Development, which we argue encompasses the risk-reducing activities of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Available theories of Sustainable Development give meaning and orientation to risk reduction efforts to avoid and minimize L&D, as well as to processes of L&D accounting and compensation; in particular clarifying “what should be sustained” when undertaking efforts to avoid, minimize or address residual L&D. However, different theories of Sustainable Development inevitably lead to different metrics to assess L&D and consequently different governance approaches when dealing with L&D; namely, whether decisions become based on economic choice or social choice, which has implications for future vulnerability and development. Our approach opens up new avenues for research, and has both conceptual and practical repercussions for the Paris Agreement and the global stocktake.