Potential and limitations of the attribution of climate change impacts for informing loss and damage discussions and policies
The issue of climate related loss and damage (L&D) has re-emerged and gained significant traction in international climate policy in recent years. However, many aspects remain unclear, including how aspects of liability and compensation in relation with L&D will be treated under the UNFCCC, human rights and environmental law. Furthermore, the type of scientific evidence required to link climate change impacts for each of these L&D mechanisms needs to be clarified. Here we analyze to which degree different types of scientific evidence can inform L&D discussions and policies. We distinguish between (i) L&D observation, (ii) understanding causation, and (iii) linking L&D to anthropogenic emissions through attribution studies. We draw on three case studies from Australia, Colombia and Alaska to demonstrate the relevance of the different types of evidence. We then discuss the potential and limitations of these types of scientific evidence, in particular attribution, for informing current L&D discussions and policies. Attribution (iii) sets the highest bar, but also provides the most complete set of information to support adaptation, risk reduction and L&D policies. However, rather than suggesting that attribution is a necessary requirement for L&D policies we want to highlight its potential for facilitating a more thematically structured, and thus hopefully a more constructive, policy and justice discussion.