Bonn Dialogues – Climate change: Non-economic loss and damage

  • 2013•06•13     Bonn

    The 13th Bonn Dialogues held on 10 June 2013, brought together experts spanning the diverse fields of academia, humanitarian aid and policy, to discuss the nature of non-economic loss and damage, its implications for affected communities and its role in policy making. The expert panel discussion on climate change related non-economic loss and damage was hosted by UNU-EHS and the German Committee for Disaster Reduction (DKKV) and included panelists Koko Warner from UNU-EHS, Madeleen Helmer from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Gottfried von Gemmingen from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The session was moderated by Anke Rasper from Deutsche Welle.

    Non-economic loss and damage of the recent floods in Germany

    Opening remarks were made by the mayor of the federal city of Bonn, Agelica Kappel and Axel Rottländer, the CEO of DKKV. In his opening remarks, Mr. Rottländer pointed out that non-economic losses affect all of us by drawing parallels between the non-economic losses incurred from the current flooding in Southern and Eastern Germany (e.g. cultural loss stemming from damage to historic centers) with the non-economic losses from climate change that are being experienced in least developed and other developing countries that form the basis of the nine case study reports on loss and damage published by UNU-EHS.

    The nature of non-economic loss and damage: Loss of culture and identity

    The discussion began by addressing the nature of non-economic loss and damage. Dr. Warner provided the example of Micronesia, a small island developing state (SIDS) in the Pacific Ocean that was forced to deconstruct an ancient fort to build sea-walls to combat coastal erosion and sea level rise. This represented not only a loss in possible revenue from tourism but also a critical loss of culture and sense of identity. As these communities deconstruct their past to maintain their future, they lose much more than money. Dr. Warner emphasized that, “The things we value most, which are at risk to be lost and damaged due to climate change, we do not exchange on the market place, things such as sovereignty, a sense of community and a collective identity.”

    A humanitarian perspective: Impacts of non-economic loss and damage

     “Climate change is most severely affecting those who live in rural areas and who are farmers and are generally among the poorest of the poor”, stated Ms. Helmer. The only asset these people have is their knowledge about the weather, which has been passed down through generations. However, as weather events become more extreme and less predictable this knowledge is eroded and rendered useless, leaving communities more vulnerable. This loss of collective knowledge represents a significant loss of value that cannot be replaced with money. In the context of humanitarian aid, Ms. Helmer also emphasized the importance of maintaining family and community ties, “Where there is a disaster the first thing we do is provide food aid/hygiene kits, the second thing is to reunite families. A mother would give up her food for a chance to be with her children. These key values are more important than material values.”

    Priceless values: Challenges for measurement and policy

    All panelists addressed the challenge of how to influence policy makers to consider values that are non-economic. From the discussions it was clear that while non-economic losses may represent some of society’s most important values, they may go unnoticed and unaddressed by policy because they pose challenges for measurement. From a policy perspective, Mr. von Gemmingen admitted that there were inherent difficulties in framing non-economic loss and damage as value in society is often measured economically, however there is danger in putting monetary costs on non-economic values. Ms. Helmer echoed this sentiment by stating that, “Every attempt to put economic values on these non-economic entities is going totally in the wrong direction, these are fundamental values that we stand for so if we lose these values we lose everything else as well.” Dr. Warner added that putting monetary value on non-economic losses gives us the false sense that if that amount of money was applied the problem would be solved. In response an audience member commented, “If the river Rhine floods and destroys the foundation of the Cologne Dom, nothing in the world can bring that back. It would be a huge cultural loss for the identity of this country.”

    Finally, Dr. Warner stressed that to meaningfully address non-economic loss and damage in policy we need to change the way we are thinking about climate change. We need to communicate that non-economic values such as culture and identity, by virtue of their ability to bring people together and provide meaning to societies, can play a crucial role in our collective success or failure in combating climate change impacts.