LONDON (AlertNet) - Vulnerable people in developing countries are suffering negative impacts from extreme weather and rising seas even when they do take measures to adapt to climate change, says a new study from the U.N. University.
Interviews with nearly 1,800 households in parts of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gambia, Kenya and Micronesia revealed that two thirds or more have experienced loss and damage from climatic stress factors, despite many taking steps to protect themselves and cope with shifting conditions.
"Loss and damage is a reality today and the numbers are alarming," said Koko Warner, scientific director of an initiative to tackle the problem at the U.N. University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn.
Researchers assessed a range of extreme weather events and slow onset climatic changes, including floods in Kenya, droughts in Gambia, cyclones and saline intrusion in Bangladesh, glacier retreat and reduced rainfall in Bhutan, and sea-level rise and coastal erosion in Micronesia.
Although the majority of respondents had made some effort to deal with these challenges, in Micronesia 92 percent were still experiencing adverse impacts, followed by 87 percent in Bhutan, 72 percent in Kenya, 70 percent in Bangladesh and 66 percent in Gambia, the study says.
On average, more than four fifths of those interviewed based their livelihoods on cultivating crops and livestock keeping, with 85 percent growing food for their own consumption.
"These bare figures are telling us that people are already at the margins of their survival," Warner said in a statement.
Loss and damage - a new concept in climate change research - refers to the negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people have not been able to cope with or adapt to.
For example, in Satkhira, a coastal district of Bangladesh, 81 percent of households reported high salt levels in their soils, compared to only two percent 20 years ago. Rice farmers had learned to adapt to rising salinity until 2009 by planting more tolerant varieties. Then cyclone Aila hit, and in the two subsequent years, rice yields were decimated by a drastic increase in soil salt content, leading to losses of $1.9 million for just the four villages surveyed.
And on the island of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia, where sea-level rise is 10mm a year compared to the global average of 3.2mm, communities have adopted measures against coastal erosion, such as building sea walls and planting trees along the shore. But they say these are not sufficient and some measures have additional costs, such as a loss of cultural heritage due to ancient ruins being dismantled for construction, according to the study.
Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCAD) and a senior fellow with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), noted that not all impacts can be quantified in financial terms.
"For example in the case of Bangladesh, women have reported reproductive health problems and incidences of miscarriage. It is crucial that these non-monetary costs are identified if they are to be considered by policy makers in climate negotiations," he said.
Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in Doha, which began on Monday, will continue work on a programme to address loss and damage. Negotiators are considering an international mechanism to deal with the growing problem.
Sven Harmeling of Germanwatch, a Bonn-based environment and development think tank, called on the talks to deliver "concrete outcomes which provide the basis for an adequate response to loss and damage".
The report says communities need support to assess the risks of loss and damage from climate stressors, as well as help to become more resilient, including gaining access to insurance. National governments also require assistance to monitor and respond to climate threats, besides deepening their understanding of the social and economic impacts of climate change, it adds.
"The consequences of a failure to address loss and damage sufficiently would compromise sustainable development, call into question food production in many parts of the world, and jeopardise the resource base of many communities more broadly," the report warns.
The report, Evidence from the Frontlines of Climate Change: Loss and Damage to Communities Despite Coping and Adaptation, was produced for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative.