Friday, April 26, 2024, 10:00AM – 4:30PM
Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Room A32
Washington Road, Princeton, NJ 08540


While there is no accepted definition of loss and damage within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the term can generally be understood as the negative impacts of climate change that occur despite, or in the absence of, climate mitigation and adaptation action. Developing countries, particularly small island developing states (SIDS), have been advocating for the setting up of a loss and damage finance mechanism since the adoption of the UNFCCC at the 1992 Earth Summit. The very idea of a loss and damage fund has been a source of contention from its inception because of the term’s legal ramifications regarding liability and compensation. The main contention being developed countries’ concerns that compensating for losses and damages caused by adverse climate impacts may be construed as an admission of legal liability, triggering litigation and compensation claims on a major scale.

With the formal establishment of a loss and damage start-up fund at the recent COP28 summit, the time is now ripe to reflect on this milestone achievement spanning more than thirty years of climate negotiations and advocacy. The topic of loss and damage takes on greater salience against the backdrop of a world that continues to fall short on meeting crucial greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Actions and support to developing countries remain insufficient as climate risks increase with rising temperatures, posing a clear threat to the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable countries and communities. Moreover, for some people and in some places, it is too late to attempt to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that even if effective actions to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C were put in place, losses and damages stemming from climate-induced changes are not preventable, as there is a “locked-in” level of warming that is already causing unavoidable consequences. The devastating impacts of climate change will likely result in unquantifiable losses and damages, particularly for many communities and countries in the developing world.

The establishment of a loss and damage fund will certainly provide much-needed financial support for developing countries and frontline communities to minimize the harmful impacts of a changing climate that they have done little to cause. Yet, there are lingering questions about the nature of the fund’s implementation and the global community’s ability to develop a sufficient and sustainable funding model that can keep pace with the rising costs caused by impacts from extreme weather events and slow-onset disasters such as sea level rise and ocean acidification. There are also critical questions regarding the finance mechanism’s replenishment cycle, its legal ramifications in terms of climate liability and compensation, to name a few.

The symposium will explore these and other questions around loss and damage financing and its future trajectory. Tied to this is an interest in the way climate finance towards loss and damage financing will be balanced between global and national-level climate adaptation and mitigation goals. Ultimately, we hope to use the meeting as a critical space to reflect on this landmark achievement in global climate negotiations and its potential for advancing just and equitable global climate action. The discussions will shed light on the science informing the loss and damage discourse and shed light on what it means for vulnerable populations and frontline communities exposed to the worsening climate impacts, and the growing moral imperative to address what is at stake – which for many signals a kind of existential crisis.