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Historical Responsibility for Loss & Damage
  • Kian Mintz-Woo
Kian Mintz-Woo
University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

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Loss & Damage (L&D) is the category of policies to address adverse climatic impacts beyond our ability at a given time to adapt to climate change. Policies addressing mitigation, adaptation, and L&D form three pillars of climate policy. While discussions of causal responsibility often group together these three pillars, I distinguish these pillars in a new, time-dependent way and argue that the causal responsibility for L&D is different from the other pillars. The primary reason is that time-dependent causal responsibility for adaptation and mitigation is shared but this is not the case with L&D; by the definition of L&D, there is no possibility of preventative intervening actions between the given time and the impacts. Furthermore, there may be may be cosmopolitan or other climate-independent distributive grounds to contribute to international adaptation meaning that causal responsibility for adaptation may plausibly be shared, unlike with L&D. In contrast, impacts requiring L&D are caused by historical climate emissions alone and would appear to be the responsibility of historical emitters alone. Finally, L&D differs from mitigation in that, for some impacts, historical emissions have led to those impacts becoming beyond adaptive capacity (that is, in the category of L&D) whereas, for all impacts, historical emissions have not led to mitigable impacts becoming non-mitigable. Among other implications of this account, since (a) the distinction between L&D and adaptation depends on the capacities at a given point and (b) the historical emitters on this account have incentive to avoid impacts being classed as L&D (since these are unshared responsibilities), historical emitters have incentive to show that impacts lie within our mitigative or adaptive capacities.