A graph of the relationship between the type of event and category of the cryosphere loss and damage in papers examined by the study, 'Loss and Damage in the mountain cryosphere' by Huggel, et al. 2018. Graphic: Huggel, et al., 2018 / Regional Environmental Change

By Andrew Angle
13 September 2018

(GlacierHub) – Few areas of the planet have been more affected by climate change than the mountain cryosphere, where negative impacts like glacier recession far exceed any positives like short-term increases in glacial runoff. These adverse changes make highland environments ideal for examining the policy concept of Loss and Damage (L&D), which deals with the impact of climate change on resources and livelihoods that cannot be offset by adaptation. A recent study in Regional Environmental Change analyzes L&D in the mountain cryosphere by extracting examples from existing literature on the subject and developing a conceptual approach to support future research to address the subject.

L&D has become an important issue within the international climate policy realm in recent years. In the mountain cryosphere, the effects of climate change and the resultant L&D are directly evident. However, despite the visibility of these changes, research on L&D has rarely focused on these mountain environments, says the study’s lead author Christian Huggel, who spoke with GlacierHub about his paper.

The dearth of research presented a unique opportunity for Huggel and his team to analyze L&D in the mountain cryosphere, to provide information to policymakers, and to create a framework for future research.

L&D work within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) first emerged around the impacts of sea-level rise on Small Island Developing States in the early 1990s, gaining further traction at the UNFCCC’s COP19 in Warsaw, where the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts was established. Then in 2015, at the landmark COP21 in Paris, the Paris Agreement’s Article 8 was dedicated to L&D. Although this article acknowledges the importance of L&D, it also states that it “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation,” which is a serious limit to concrete action.

Despite the attention to L&D in international climate negotiations, significant controversy still surrounds the issue. Most of this controversy centers on the historical responsibility and potential liability of the developed countries for climate change impacts, with developing countries arguing for compensation, risk management, and insurance from the developed world.

Huggel told GlacierHub, “As the first systematic study of L&D in the Mountain Cryosphere, the researchers had to first frame existing literature on mountain climate change impacts within the concept of L&D.” To do this, they considered peer-reviewed literature published in English between 2013 and 2017 that dealt with issues of glaciers and climate change, and more specifically glacial shrinkage and permafrost degradation. Their search procured 41 papers for the final analysis. […]

From their literature review, the researchers made several observations. First, they note the current disconnect between mountain cryosphere research and L&D, which indicates that the concept of L&D has yet to be analyzed and applied for these environments. Second, their study reveals that L&D in the mountain cryosphere is a worldwide phenomenon occurring in all major mountain ranges with a higher proportion of L&D in developing rather than developed countries. Third, they highlight the seven groups of L&D outlined above as particularly relevant to the mountain cryosphere. Out of these, the non-economic ones, of which five of the seven can be considered, have attracted attention in research and policy due to the loss of values associated with glacial retreat, such as community and self-reliance. [more]

New Study Highlights Loss & Damage in Mountain Cryosphere


ABSTRACT: The mountain cryosphere, which includes glaciers, permafrost, and snow, is one of the Earth’s systems most strongly affected by climate change. In recent decades, changes in the cryosphere have been well documented in many high-mountain regions. While there are some benefits from snow and ice loss, the negative impacts, including from glacier lake outburst floods and variations in glacier runoff, are generally considered to far outweigh the positive impacts, particularly if cultural impacts are considered. In international climate policy, there has been growing momentum to address the negative impacts of climate change, or ‘Loss and Damage’ (L&D) from climate change. It is not clear exactly what can and should be done to tackle L&D, but researchers and practitioners are beginning to engage with policy discussions and develop potential frameworks and supporting information. Despite the strong impact of climate change on the mountain cryosphere, there has been limited interaction between cryosphere researchers and L&D. Therefore, little work has been done to consider how L&D in the mountain cryosphere might be conceptualized, categorized, and assessed. Here, we make a first attempt to analyze L&D in the mountain cryosphere by conducting a systematic literature review to extract L&D impacts and examples from existing literature. We find that L&D is a global phenomenon in the mountain cryosphere and has been more frequently documented in the developing world, both in relation with slow and sudden onset processes. We develop a categorization of L&D, making distinctions between physical and societal impacts, primary and secondary impacts, and identifying seven types of L&D (including L&D to culture, livelihoods, revenue, natural resources, life, and security). We hope this conceptual approach will support future work to understand and address L&D in the mountain cryosphere.

Loss and Damage in the mountain cryosphere

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