Which countries will get hit hardest by climate change?
The Global Adaptation Institute has put out its annual index showing which countries will likely suffer most from global warming. Light-blue countries, like Canada and Denmark, are relatively well-positioned to adapt to a hotter climate (though the key word there is “relatively”). Nations in red and purple, like Bangladesh or Mali, don’t fare so well. Countries in gray, like Russia and China, fall somewhere in the middle:
In constructing the index, GAI looked at two factors. First, there’s vulnerability. How much will a country be materially affected by sharp shifts in precipitation, by droughts, by heat waves, by rising sea levels, and so forth? The second factor is adaptability: Does the country have the resources to deal with adverse consequences? Not surprisingly, richer countries do much better on this score. Heat waves, for instance, kill fewer people when there’s modern public-health infrastructure in place.
More broadly, the map underscores one big hurdle for any coordinated world effort on climate change. The countries likely to get smacked the hardest aren’t, by and large, the countries currently pumping out the most greenhouse gases. One big exception is China, which scores dismally on GAI’s “readiness” index. That may explain why leaders in Beijing are taking increasingly ambitious steps to rein in carbon pollution. (Whether they’ll actually succeed is a different question, but a sense of urgency does seem to have taken hold there.)
One quick caveat: this map could be misread as suggesting that global warming poses few problems for countries like the United States. But there’s little reason to think that’s true. Take sea-level rise. Just fortifying the lower 48 states against a three-foot hike in ocean levels by century’s end could cost more than $1 trillion, according to the EPA’s sea-level experts (and that doesn’t include the indirect costs of destroying huge swathes of U.S. coastal wetlands with concrete sea barriers). Meanwhile, increased droughts, wildfires, and heat waves are all expected to wreak havoc on significant chunks of the United States.
It’s true, as the GAI map shows, that America can likely survive these things — in much the same way the world survived the 1918 flu pandemic and kept growing anyway — but that’s very different from saying it won’t be costly.