Policy ForumCLIMATE POLICY

Identifying the policy space for climate loss and damage

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 290-292
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2514

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  • The Limits of Risk Science
    • Leigh Johnson, Assistant Professor, University of Oregon
    • Other Contributors:
      • David J. Wrathall, Assistant Professor, Oregon State University

    Mechler and Schinko (1) suggest that risk science can serve as the authority through which desirable transformations in the face of climate change (2) can be identified and achieved, while simultaneously resolving distributional problems of climate justice. UNFCCC COP 22 decisions in Marrakech (3) firmly embedded the logic of risk science in the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) with its embrace of “comprehensive risk management.” A major mandate of WIM’s Executive Committee, set for elaboration this March, is to establish a risk transfer clearinghouse to facilitate the market exchange of climate risk management tools (4).

    This endorsement of risk science as the method to adjudicate loss and damage elides a key contradiction. While the authors acknowledge that risk tolerance is socially constructed – i.e. risks are deemed acceptable, tolerable or intolerable according to the calculus of subjective, non-economic value systems (5, 6) – they nevertheless maintain that scientific mechanisms can segregate risk according to bearers’ risk preferences: risk-seeking actors can be paid to shoulder larger climate risks that risk-averse actors wish to shed.

    Yet studies of scientific deliberations over acceptable risks suggest these are fundamentally debates about values that cannot be settled by recourse to risk science (7, 8). Furthermore, in the case of risk transfer, climate risk expertise is so highly concentrated in the global North (9, 10) –...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: "Identifying the policy space for climate loss and damage" Mechler and Schinko 290-292
    • John Handmer, Professor of Risk & Community Safety, School of Science, RMIT University, 124 Latrobe Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
    • Other Contributors:
      • Johanna Nalau, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, QLD 4222

    Mechler and Schinko set out a conceptual framework for considering climate risk management in Small Island Developing States. The concept shown in their graphic is future oriented, with the “intolerable” risk space seen as being relevant in the longer term (2080-2100). While this might be the situation globally, there are already cases where communities find themselves impacted by intolerable climate related risk and where the risk management options suggested in the graphic are already being deployed (1,2).

    The paper argues that risk management funding should be allocated on the basis of attribution of loss and damage to climate change. Attribution is complex in Pacific Island countries with both global and local environmental change, declining crop yield and fish resource reliability, and demographic and socio-economic factors (3). It would likely be contested, as the science of attribution is not settled, and providing scientific certainty would consume funds that could be used to reduce risk. The approach could also lead to inequitable outcomes, as those with greatest need might not satisfy attribution criteria. Allocation according to need could help ensure equitable outcomes with funds flowing immediately to those impacted most by climate hazards – even if they are not directly the result of climate change.

    The options space may be more constrained than suggested. Subsistence farmers in remote locations becoming increasingly unproductive, and with very...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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