The United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) last week released a research report, Pushed to the Limit, that focuses on the loss and damage that climate change is already causing worldwide.
This new report — issued in the lead-up to the nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), now being held (11–22 November) in Warsaw, Poland — finds that despite on-going adaptation efforts, people in vulnerable communities are experiencing loss and damage that threaten their livelihoods and food security.
“Our research findings clearly show that current levels of adaptation and mitigation efforts are insufficient to avoid negative impacts from climate stressors. Policy responses are needed now,” explained Dr. Koko Warner, Scientific Director of the Loss & Damage Initiative at UNU-EHS. “People are feeling impacts right now that affect their food security and way of life. These negative effects will only grow unless we take action. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.”
Nine scientific case studies in the report — based on more than 3,260 household interviews and 200 focus group sessions — explore the impacts of floods and droughts in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Nepal, and build on earlier research conducted in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gambia, Kenya and Micronesia. The households in the case study regions, primarily small-scale farmers, said that climate change impacts — such as changing rainfall patterns, and increased frequency of floods and drought — are directly and critically threatening their both their livelihood security and their food security.
Despite applying a variety of coping and adaptation measures, 96 percent of households surveyed in in Ethiopia, 78 percent in Nepal, 72 percent in Burkina Faso and 69 percent in Mozambique still have experienced severe negative impacts on their household budgets due to damage caused by climate change. Three out of four surveyed households across the study sites reported that they have had to cut down on the number of meals or reduce portion sizes — a clear sign that coping capacity is inadequate.
“Following a severe flood in Ethiopia in 2007, 94 percent of respondents reported that their crops were severely damaged or entirely destroyed. Large-scale destruction of crops also led to higher food prices, which made staple foods such as maize unaffordable”, said Dr. Fatima Denton, Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), a partner for the African case studies. “Time and time again the study found that households that are already struggling are forced into deeper poverty due to climate change impacts.”
While loss and damage from climate change impacts are commonly expressed in monetary terms, non-economic loss and damage may actually have the most far-reaching and significant consequences. Pastoralists in Burkina Faso, for example, have had their herds decimated due to lack of water and fodder, representing not just a loss of physical assets but also a critical loss of cultural identity and way of life.
The evidence on loss and damage presented in this UNU-EHS report comes at a crucial time, given the climate negotiations in Warsaw that seek a mandate to establish institutional arrangements to address climate change-related loss and damage.