A deeply unfair consequence of climate change is that those who’ve done least to cause it are likely to be most affected.
Most of the historical build-up of gases in the atmosphere has come from countries in the North. And yet, it’s the Global South that will bear the brunt in flooding, storms, and droughts. These countries tend to have fewer defenses and emergency resources and more of their economies at risk from extreme weather.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s recently analyzed relative climate vulnerability of nations around the world by bringing together three sets of data. First, it looked at the percentage of a nation’s population at five meters above sea level and below. Second, it looked at national agricultural output as a percentage of an overall economy (because agriculture is particularly vulnerable to weather). And third, it looked at each country’s adaptive capacity, as assessed by Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index.
The results are color-coded in the map. Countries in dark green, including North America and most of Western Europe, are least vulnerable. Countries in yellow, including most of Latin America, have “intermediate” vulnerability. Countries in red, including India and much of South East Asia, are rated as very vulnerable. (Note, some countries in Africa, which are seriously at risk from climate change, aren’t rated, for lack of comprehensive data.)
According to the results, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh could be most affected by climate change. Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria would be least affected (probably because they’re rich, land-locked, and don’t depend on farming). The United States is 10th least vulnerable, sandwiched between France and Poland.
S&P doesn’t call the ranking the final word. There are many other ways of assessing the same question and climate change by its nature is unpredictable. “Great uncertainty still remains about if, how, and when various economies could be affected by climate change,” its analysts say. But the ranking shows, one, the inherent inequality of climate change, and two, how the impacts will have very real material impacts. If the countries at the bottom are affected as expected, their credit worthiness and ability to borrow money will probably suffer. As we say, it’s an unfair world.