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What do we have to lose? Understanding and responding to climate-induced loss of life and health

Research reports

Written by Archie Gilmour, Shandelle Steadman, Michai Robertson

Image credit:Toto Santiko Budi - Shutterstock

The impacts of climate change are vast and far-reaching. We are increasingly faced with climate-related weather events that inflict deep devastation on our livelihoods and assets, our infrastructure and services, and the ecosystem services that our planet's delicate biodiversity provides.

But there are few impacts with such far-reaching economic and non-economic impacts as the loss of life and health. Extreme events like cyclones and flooding can inflict injury, illness, and death; while the infrastructural effects can limit the capacity of health services and damage public budgets.

In the context of the climate accords, 'loss and damage' refers to negative impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided due to insufficient mitigation and limits to adaptation. Loss and damage can be economic, referring to the loss of resources, goods and services that can easily be monetised, and non-economic, referring to forms of loss and damage that are more difficult to measure solely in economic terms. This may include loss of cultural heritage, territory, biodiversity, knowledge and practices, ecosystems and health and life – the focus of this paper.

Understanding the impact of non-economic losses can help us quantify them, but there is no foolproof way of doing so. This paper seeks to highlight the nature of loss and damage to human health and agency, the ways in which climate change impacts upon them, and potential responses to avert and minimise it.