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posted on 09.11.2021, 11:36 by Kelly Dorkenoo, Murray ScownMurray Scown, Emily BoydEmily Boyd

The notion of disproportionate impacts of climate change on certain groups and regions has long been a part of policy debates and scientific inquiry, and was instrumental in the emergence of the ‘Loss and Damage’ (L&D) policy agenda in the international negotiations on climate change. Yet, disproportionality remains relatively undefined and implicit in science on loss and damage from climate change. A coherent theoretical basis of disproportionality is needed for advancing science and policy on loss and damage; it is necessary to ask what is disproportionate, to whom, and in relation to what?

We critically examine the uses of disproportionality in loss and damage scholarship by analysing how the literature relates to disproportionality conceptually, methodologically, and empirically. We review publications against a set of criteria derived from seminal work on disproportionality in other fields, mainly environmental justice and disaster studies, stemming from environment-society interactions.

We find disproportionality to be dynamic and multidimensional, spanning the themes of risks, impacts, burdens and responsibilities. Our results show that while the concept is often used in loss and damage scholarship, its use relates to notions of justice specifically and often lacks conceptual, methodological and empirical grounding. Disproportionality also appears as a boundary concept, allowing critical and multi-scalar explorations of historical processes shaping the uneven impacts of climate change, alongside social justice and normative claims for desired futures. This emerging area of science offers an opportunity to critically re-evaluate the conceptualisation of the relationship between climate change-related impacts, development and inequality.


Swedish National Research Council (Formas), grant number FR-2018/0010, project “Recasting the disproportionate impacts of climate change extremes (DICE)”