Cascading loss and loss risk multipliers amid a changing climate in the Pacific Islands

Ambio. 2022 May;51(5):1239-1246. doi: 10.1007/s13280-021-01640-9. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


Human society has experienced, and will continue to experience, extensive loss and damage from worsening anthropogenic climate change. Despite our natural tendencies to categorise and organise, it can be unhelpful to delineate clean boundaries and linear understandings for complex and messy concepts such as loss and damage. Drawing on the perspectives of 42 local and regional Pacific Islander stakeholders, an underexplored resource for understanding loss and damage, we explore the complexity and interconnectedness of non-economic loss and damage (NELD). According to participants, Pacific Islander worldviews, knowledge systems and cosmologies often make it difficult to separate and evaluate NELD independently, challenging the nomenclature of NELD categories developed through international mechanisms. Instead, NELD understandings are often centred on the interdependencies between losses, including the cascading flow-on effects that can occur and the nature of some losses as risk multipliers (i.e. one loss creating the risk for further losses). Most notably, losses to biodiversity, ecosystem services and land are critically linked to, and have cascading effects on, livelihoods, knowledge, ways of life, wellbeing, and culture and heritage. We argue that loss and damage is not always absolute, and that there are NELD that are arguably reparable. Concerning, however, is that biodiversity loss, as a risk multiplier, was considered the least reparable by participants. We put forward that NELD understandings must consider interconnectivity, and that biodiversity and ecosystem conservation and restoration must be the focus for interventions to prevent irreparable and cascading losses from climate change in the Pacific Islands.

Keywords: Climate change; Interdependencies; Non-economic loss and damage; Pacific Islands; Reparable.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Pacific Islands