Imagine the following scenario:
An island community is forced to relocate because sea-level rise has rendered the land uninhabitable. What are the changes an island community faces? At first infrastructure is left behind; cultivated land is lost and crops can no longer be harvested; fisheries are abandoned and income opportunities at least temporally lost. Then the community resettles in some other, remote and safer area. If all goes well, new income opportunities arise and individuals diversify their skills. They earn a living and some of them may thrive in those new surroundings; comparing per-capita income before and after relocation may show the latter´s beneficial effects. Things look good. Apart from the infrastructure and a year or two of income not much seems lost, and that may eventually be outweighed by the beneficial effects of higher earnings.
The picture changes when a focus on non-economic loss and damage is applied. Not only arable land is lost, but so are landscapes. Not only fisheries are lost, but so are traditions. Not only are new ways of income generation learnt, but old ways of knowing and relating to the environment lost. The task of adapting to new realities may cause stress, a sense of loss and disorientation. A community of fishermen and farmers dislocated from the sea and their lands: What has happened to their identity, has that been lost too?
The concept of non-economic loss and damage (NELD) takes into focus such items – the material and non-material dimensions that defy quantification and/or monetization, but that still matter to people.