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Published on mayo 8th, 2024

Losing Identity and Place: Understanding Non-economic Loss and Damage in the Pacific Islands

“Loss and Damage is the recognition that there are irreversible and reversible losses caused by climatic changes felt by countries due to a lack of mitigation and the limits of adaptation,” said Reverend James Bhagwan, General Secretary for the Pacific Conference of Churches, at the Loss and Damage side panel in the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at COP 28. “Therefore, despite adaptation and resilience building efforts in the Pacific, the increasingly disastrous and frequent adverse climatic events are pushing natural and human systems past their ability to adapt.”

Loss and damage impacts are widespread and complex, and they are not just purely economic. Non-economic loss and damages include harm to physical and mental health, biodiversity, culture, tradition, traditional knowledge, spirituality, heritage sites, and a lesser sense of identity and place. These losses have significant and lasting effects on communities, but international policy decision makers do not consider these non-economic impacts.

Pacific Island nations have hope that the spotlight being shined on loss and damage will help to document and recognize the increasing harm Pacific Islands are facing due to climatic events, but it is crucial for them to share their own storis to highlight the importance of non-economic loss and gain global understanding.

During COP 28, where DT Global staff provided support to the official delegations from Fiji and Tuvalu, the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion held events which allowed Pacific Islanders to share their concerns and voice their needs around loss and damage funding.

What does non-economic loss look like on the front lines of the climate crisis?

Non-economic impacts must be understood and included in the full picture of loss and damage. For the Pacific Island countries, the non-economic impacts are severely underreported but crucial to understand when trying to quantify loss and damage and create a global funding mechanism.

It is easy to understand the natural impacts of climate change such as drought, cyclones, and sea level rise, and to understand the economic impacts such as infrastructure damage, land loss, and coastal erosion. But it is harder for people outside of the Pacific Islands to understand how this connects to non-economic impacts — that the result of the loss of land and coastal areas is the existential threat to people’s identities. The loss of ancestors’ remains, cultural and spiritual practices, and sense of identity that comes with loss of land is irreversible and unquantifiable. Recognizing the magnitude of the loss that the Pacific Islands are facing highlights just how important it is to try to quantify and include it in loss and damage funding pledges.

The Federated States of Micronesia

A common response in the international community to the coastal erosion and lost of land due to climate change is simply to relocate. Different communities have different reactions to this recommendation.

COP 28 Panelist, the Honorable Mr. Andrew Yatilman, explained how in Micronesia, communities respect that land boundaries are flexible and people within the same community willingly move their boundaries back to accommodate for those whose land has been eroded away. They shift and make space for each other. But when it comes to truly relocating away from the coast and onto higher ground, the common reaction is to say no. People are unwilling to leave the place where their ancestors are buried. Their sense of self is tied to their coastal lands and that cannot simply be abandoned.


In Fiji, land is equal to self-identity, family identity, and culture. They ask that the sentimental ties are recognized and quantified.

Ambassador Amena Yauvoli, Fiji’s chief Climate Negotiator at COP 28, spoke to the erosion of land due to climate change that is requiring community relocation. Six villages have already been relocated, teaching the Government of Fiji about the intricacies of community integration and the necessity of purposeful planning and the consideration of the non-economic losses of both losing land and relocating.

In total, 80% of land in Fiji is owned by traditional land ownership practices. There are certain local protocols, requiring planned processes, that must be followed for people to move into another community because of the land tenure system. Relocation has caused a lot of traumas: psychosocial, spiritual, and cultural trauma. For example, communities used to living by the sea their entire lives and who value the sound of the ocean are now moved inland. This is a very different context to other parts of the world, and Ambassador Yauvoli asked, “How do we quantify losses to sentimental values that come with moving from ancestral homelands and land by the coast?”

Using locally led solutions to make decisions around non-economic loss and damage

International negotiations around climate change action, specifically climate finance (including loss and damage funding) are often repetitive and leave the voices of the Pacific Islanders out. Governments within the Pacific Islands have begun to make it a priority to invest in themselves and their solutions to ensure they are a part of the discussions and an active member in decision making.

Senator Merlynn Abello-Alfonso from Micronesia recommended at COP 28 that one way of including non-economic loss into quantifying loss and damage is “to adopt a gender and social inclusion lens which allows for an assessment of loss and damage that is not only based on financial impacts but addresses traditional and noneconomic contributions to society, knowledge, systems, and culture.” Climate change and disasters have a disproportionate impact on the elderly, women, youth, and disabled. Women typically perform most of the care work tasks and hold the traditional knowledge; understanding how these tasks are made more difficult during and after climate crises such as drought and resource scarcity can help inform adaptation methods.

Pacific Islanders want to take back control of the narrative, drive local solutions, and make innovation in climate finance a key government priority. Home grown solutions are being set up by Pacific Island states so that when financing comes in from the loss and damage fund, there is a mechanism in place in Pacific Island countries to get that funding to local organizations.

For instance, the Drua Incubator in Fiji and the regional Pacific Resilience Facility are two examples of local financing mechanisms. The Pacific Resilience facility is a regional grant mechanism that will be able to disperse grants across Pacific Island communities to do small scale projects of their own.

As DT Global looks to continue our long term work within the Pacific Islands, we aim to support locally led climate mitigation and adaption solutions that integrate Pacific-led solutions to non-economic loss and damage.