Loss and damage is the impacts of climate change that occur because not enough mitigation, adaptation or disaster risk reduction (DRR) has happened.

Mitigation actions reduce the rate of climate change by limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and by enhancing activities that remove these gases from the atmosphere (IPCC). Mitigation averts loss and damage by reducing the risk of a climate change event occurring.

Adaptation is defined by the IPCC (2014, p5) as the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. Adaptation activities reduce or prevent the risk of harm from climate change impacts.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) focuses on minimising risks from sudden-onset hazards, be they climate-induced or not (Kreienkamp & Vanhala 2017). There is a lot of overlap between DRR and climate adaptation.

Emergency humanitarian disaster response includes the international community response to extreme typhoons, cyclones, floods, droughts and other disasters to help those on the ground. A decent proportion of humanitarian disaster responses may count as addressing loss and damage, where the disaster has been caused by the climate crisis.


There is absolutely a ‘grey area’, an area of overlap, between adaptation and DRR activities and loss and damage activities. From a practical, on-ground, implementation perspective programs in communities should be streamlined. However, from a conceptual point of view, and from an international climate funding perspective, it is useful and might be necessary to distinguish between the two.

The difference can be understood as: adaptation is adjusting to the effect of climate change in a way that allows the community to substantially continue their traditional, or existing, livelihood. Whereas loss and damage is when climate impacts go beyond adjustments and instead requires an altogether different order of magnitude reaction, a complete reorientation in response to significant harms, that takes the community (or individual) outside of the realm of the traditional approach.

Turning to humanitarian disaster response, we propose that where the disaster, and the subsequent impact, was caused or made worse by climate change, then it is loss and damage from climate change.

For instance, if it is a ‘normal’ typhoon – that is wind speeds, rainfall and storm surge, fall within historical parameters and aren’t occurring more frequently than historically expected – it could be dealt with using traditional disaster response channels. If the impacts fall outside of these ‘normal’ parameters, then additional resources are needed for this loss and damage from climate change. Either attribution science, or historical parameters should be used. A lack of complete ability to attribute specific events to climate change should not hold us back from recognizing that impacts are becoming more severe and more frequent (e.g. when droughts are considered) and are exacerbated by underlying conditions having changed (e.g. sea level rise leading to storm surges with greater impact).

This is important, as disasters are getting much worse and much more frequent, overwhelming not just local communities ability to cope, but also the willingness of the international community to fund humanitarian appeals. A recent report from Oxfam (2022) shows that funding requirements for UN humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather are eight times higher than they were 20 years ago, and over the past five years nearly half of appeal requirements have gone unmet. Funding for emergency humanitarian response is painfully inadequate.


To make it straightforward, whether something is a loss and damage activity could be delineated by answering this set of questions:

Was the impact likely caused by, or made worse by, climate change?

Does the impact require a significant change to traditional, or existing, livelihood, going beyond adjustments and instead require an altogether different order of magnitude reaction?

Does it involve loss of something the community values and depends on?

For funding purposes a proportion of an activity that meets the criteria of loss and damage should be able to qualify as loss and damage, whilst allowing a proportion of the project or activity to fit within other categories (e.g.: adaptation).

What stands out most clearly is that there is currently a massive shortfall in available climate, development, risk reduction and disaster recovery financing, and an urgent need for loss and damage funding. And that we can’t let definitional arguments get in the way of action.