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The United Nations University (UNU) is the academic arm of the United Nations (UN). It bridges the academic world and the UN system. Its goal is to develop sustainable solutions for current and future problems of humankind in all aspects of life. Through a problem-oriented and interdisciplinary approach it aims at applied research and education on a global scale. UNU was founded in 1973 and is an autonomous organ of the UN General Assembly. The University comprises headquarters Tokyo, Japan, and more than a dozen Institutes and Programmes worldwide.

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UNFCCC climate talks - Science perspectives on loss and damage

On Tuesday 4 June 2013, UNU organized a side event on climate change related loss and damage that explored climate change realities in different regions around the world, a new policy framework to address loss and damage and non-economic loss and damage.

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Climate change impacts around the world

Drawing from findings from the World Bank Report, Turn down the Heat, Dr. Bill Hare from Climate Analytics GmbH, provided insights on climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and South East Asia. He contributed to the loss and damage discussion by stressing that increased uncertainty in weather patterns as well as a higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in these regions will ultimately result in profound changes in people’s lives and livelihoods (e.g. decreased crop yields and productivity), with dire consequences for future development. 

New policy approaches for dealing with climate change

Dr. David Wrathall from UNU-EHS stressed the need for a new policy regime to address loss and damage arising from climate change. Existing policy approaches for dealing with environmental stress – climate change adaption, disaster risk reduction and public-private risk transfer– are insufficient to protect against the systemic impacts that are anticipated. He suggests a policy framework that instead addresses the potential impact of climate change on our social systems and emphasized the need to focus on the root drivers that contribute to vulnerability (e.g. poverty and disenfranchisement), in order to build resilience and ensure that we go beyond band aid solutions that will need to be reapplied following every new crisis.

Loss and damage case studies and non-economic losses

Finally, Dr. Koko Warner from UNU-EHS presented the research on nine loss and damage case studies conducted in least developed and developing countries that are vulnerable to different climate stressors (e.g. drought, sea level rise, salinization). These case studies provide a people’s perspective on loss and damage, by illustrating how climate stressors impact the day to day life of the affected people, including how it affects their livelihoods and how they adapt or fail to adapt to the impacts. Dr. Warner also addressed non-economic loss and damage, which includes concepts such as identity, culture, and language that are deeply valued but difficult to quantify in monetary terms. She emphasized that we cannot ignore non-economic losses simply because they do not fit our standard method of quantification; replacement and compensation may be possible for some things but not for those things that we value most. From a policy perspective, Dr. Warner believes that we need a mechanism to facilitate social dialogue and develop common identities to enable us to move from simply assigning value to possibly creating it.

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This side event was also covered by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), for their coverage, please click here.