Non-Economic Loss (NELs) can be – simply – understood as loss that is not economic and “not commonly traded within the market.” It is complex and its worth can be misunderstood because it has no commercial value. But that does not mean it is any less harmful for a country or vulnerable people group to incur a non-economic loss. NELs can destroy or undermine an entire society or culture. So although they are abstract, their place within Loss and Damage (L&D) conversation should not be forgotten.
Most of the L&D negotiation sessions that have taken place at COP23 have focused on matters of finance, but after an inspiring conversation with Koko Warner of the U.N, I have realized that L&D negotiations need to tell the stories of loss. The classic tension between developed countries and their neglect to pa climate change damage to developing countries is an institutional story that dehumanizes the issues of L&D. L&D is more than just a compensation mechanism for developing countries, it is the story of vulnerable people who have been impacted by climate change. In the future of negotiations, the narrative of NEL within L&D should not be forgotten. So, readers should please consider a few narratives of NEL.
First, is the story of the Italian farmer – Ms. Guidobaldi – and her “children.” As climate change rises average temperatures, farmers in the Mediterranean have noticed inconsistencies within their crops. Crop loss and inconsistent yield would be a simple economic loss, but the impact of losing an eight generation farm and business due to climate change has consequences. A loss of identity, culture, or lifestyle can easily be categorized as a NEL. This specific type of loss is what happens to many people groups impacted by climate change. They often find themselves displaced or forced into an alternative culture where the costs of assimilating are high.
The second story is that of the Quechua in the glacial Andes. The Quechua face a NEL in that as the glaciers recede, their religious doctrine decree the world’s end. On top of that – and maybe more importantly – the glaciers serve the Quechua as a water source. With a receding water source and a religious belief in retribution, the Quechua face a unique choice of evils.
As climate change disasters become more consistent and temperatures higher, neither the Quechua’s or Ms. Guidobaldi’s problems will easily disappear. In fact, they will likely exacerbate with the changes in climate. For these reasons, it is important that negotiators humanize L&D and remember that behind bland conversations of shall and should there are victims whose entire livelihoods and realities have been completely upended.