Who’s Most At Risk From Climate Change? Not The People Who Caused It

Global warming will hurt some parts of the globe more than others.

Who’s Most At Risk From Climate Change? Not The People Who Caused It
[Top Photo: asharkyu via Shutterstock]

As climate change gets worse, the tiny African country of Eritrea might be one of the worst places in the world to live. Droughts and floods will ruin crops on subsistence farms. Hotter weather will spread disease like malaria. Rising sea levels along the coast will make groundwater too salty to drink. And because the country is one of the poorest in the world, it’s also one of the least prepared for those changes.


The sad irony: It’s also one of the least responsible for causing the problem. In a year, an Eritrean has a carbon footprint of .08 tons, almost 200 times less than the average American.

A new data visualization from George Washington University’s grad program in health administration shows how the pattern repeats country by country; the places at most risk from climate change aren’t the ones that caused it.

Click to enlarge. Brought to you by MHA@GW: online master of health administration

“By now, most everyone knows the basics on climate change–the earth gets warmer with greenhouse gases,” says Peter LaPuma, an environmental and occupational health professor at GWU. “But it is often hard to get the less apparent issues across to folks. This infographic helps to illustrate the environmental injustice issues related to climate change. The countries who have had the least to do with greenhouse gas emissions have the most to suffer from it.”

The issue has been a sticking point in global climate negotiations: How much responsibility should developed countries take for the problems they’ve caused?

Other visualizations have shown the problem of climate vulnerability on maps, but the new graphic highlights the scale of the problem–and emissions–instead. “Typically you see world atlas maps to illustrate the climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions,” says LaPuma. “This graphic shows magnitude and lists the country names more clearly. I think it will help encourage people to do the right thing for moral reasons.”

Of course, every country is at risk from climate change, even if it doesn’t show up on the list.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.