Climatic Change

, Volume 133, Issue 3, pp 453–467 | Cite as

Potential and limitations of the attribution of climate change impacts for informing loss and damage discussions and policies

  • Christian HuggelEmail author
  • Dáithí Stone
  • Hajo Eicken
  • Gerrit Hansen


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.


Colombia Extreme Weather Event Anthropogenic Emission Anthropogenic Climate Change Climate Justice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Ivo Wallimann-Helmer for discussions which improved the focus of the paper. Collaboration and discussions with colleagues of the IPCC WGII AR5, chapter 18, have set an important basis for this paper. CH was supported by strategic funds by the Executive Board and Faculty of Science of the University of Zurich. DAS was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research’s Regional and Global Climate Modelling Program under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. GH was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. We appreciate the insightful comments by Mike Hulme and two anonymous reviewers as well as those of the guest editors, Dominic Roser and Markus Ohndorf, which helped restructuring and improving the paper. We also extend thanks to André Wehrli for discussions on loss and damage.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Huggel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dáithí Stone
    • 2
  • Hajo Eicken
    • 3
  • Gerrit Hansen
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.International Arctic Research CenterUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA
  4. 4.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany

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