Loss and damage: A review of the literature and directions for future research

Karen E. McNamara*, Guy Jackson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change researchers argue that a residual domain exists beyond the limits of adaptation to prevent deleterious climate change impacts: this has been labeled as “loss and damage.” Over the last 8 years, there has been significant growth in loss and damage scholarship thus making it imperative to take stock of what we know already and directions for future research. We undertook a quantitative review of academic publications (n = 122) in the loss and damage field to date and documented study characteristics, thematic areas, trends, gaps, and opportunities. The first publication appeared in 2010 before a significant increase in published research after 2013. Although increasingly diverse over time, loss and damage studies have primarily focused on technical, political, and normative questions. Our analysis suggests the following: that researchers predominately conceptualize loss and damage as “limits to adaptation”; that the literature is more practical (i.e., descriptive, does not challenge underlying presuppositions) than critical (i.e., challenges underlying presuppositions) in orientation; that loss and damage is conceived as both an occurring and future condition; and that economic dimensions of loss and damage are prioritized in studies. Recommended future research directions include empirical and theoretical explorations of the potential for transformational change; understanding what people value and how they can engage with loss and grief; ensuring the perspectives of the most vulnerable groups are included in decision-making; and greater policy-relevant research and critical analyses of loss and damage conceptualizations and the Warsaw International Mechanism. This article is categorized under: Climate, Nature, and Ethics > Comparative Environmental Values.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

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