Exploring Loss and Damage to People and Society from Climate Change impacts on Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Services

Over the past decades, climate-related hazards, for instance rapid onset events such as floods and droughts, have increased in their occurrence and severity. Simultaneously, slow-onset processes such as sea-level rise and salinization continue unabated, leading to cascading impacts for ecosystems and people. Moreover, the severity of climate change will affect people’s livelihoods, particularly in low-lying areas and Small Island States (SIDS). Given these continuous pressures and disruptions on livelihoods, various people and institutions are discussing and implementing different adaptation strategies. However, adaptation strategies can be sometimes misguided and add negative consequences on current human and natural systems vulnerabilities. Sometimes adaptation to climate change impacts is no longer possible, leading to loss and damage to people and society.

The concept of loss and damage was first mentioned in 2013 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM). ‘Loss and damage’ does not have a consistent definition, but frequently refers to the unavoidable impacts of climate change due, for instance, to biophysical, social, financial, and technical constraints and the lack of consideration of context-specificities. Loss and damage are characterized as either economic (tradable in the market), such as physical assets, or non-economic (not tradable in the market), such as cultural heritage or ecosystem health and services. For instance, climate induced losses of ecosystem services that coastal communities rely on for their livelihoods and food security, may lead to the displacement of people, resulting in the loss of their identity, heritage, and local knowledge.

There is a need to better understand climate change impacts on ecosystems and their services in order to address loss and damage to people and society.  Within the MACOBIOS project, the focus is on understanding and increasing knowledge about the relationship between climate change, biodiversity, and marine and coastal ecosystem services to support better informed and inclusive decisions, despite the uncertainty posed by climate change impacts.

Through a gender and intersectional lens, I investigate the climate change impact on marine and coastal livelihoods and the limits of adaptation in Martinique. My research pays particular attention to people’s relationship with the ocean and marine and coastal ecosystem services (past, present, and future aspirations) as I seek to understand people’s values and use of these services for their livelihoods and well-being. Furthermore, I explore how people perceive the risks posed by climate change, how they are affected by climate change and why do they act in a specific way to climate change impacts and the resulting loss and damages. This also means considering social group specificities and institutions influencing people’s adaptative capacity.

Consideration of coastal communities’ heterogeneities, dependencies, needs, and priorities is crucial to ensure that science and adaptation policies and projects contribute to minimize and avoid loss and damage. My research will provide a better understanding of adaptation limits and how to address loss and damage induced by climate change on people and societies.  To achieve “The Science We Need For The Ocean We Want” as part of the UN Ocean Decade we must ensure that communities relying on coastal and marine ecosystem services are fully considered in our projects to ensure a more sustainable future.

Description: Itsamia, Moheli, Comoros. Photo credit: Alicia N’guetta


My research also takes place in the context of a Lund University project called Recasting the Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change Extremes (DICE) that focus on advancing the conceptualisation, measurement, and governance of loss and damage. To learn more please click here.
To learn more please read the article “Climate Change and Ecosystem Services – Implications for Present and Future Loss and Damage to People and  Society” in EcoMagazine-Rising Seas Edition 2021 here.

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