Countries Ranked by Climate Change Vulnerability

With the possible exception of small island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu, Bangladesh and India may prove to be the countries hit hardest by climate change. That’s according to British-based consulting agency Maplecroft, which this month ranked 171 countries according to the vulnerability to climate change of their human populations. Ironically most small island countries—which may fact the most severe threat of all—were not included in the ranking due to a lack of data. But of those nations considered, Bangladesh was ranked most at risk with India coming in second.

Low-lying Bangladesh, home to a population larger than Russia’s, has long been regarded one of the countries most at risk due to climate change. Because of low elevations throughout much of this coastal country, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and fiercer tropical storms. Compounding the problem is rampant poverty that leaves millions of Bangladeshis ill-equipped to escape from natural disasters. In a world of climate change the prospects for this impoverished country are nothing short of terrifying—think Hurricane Katrina multiplied several-fold.

Nearby India is ranked second most vulnerable for somewhat similar reasons. India also has millions of poor inhabitants living in areas places which stand to experience severe flooding and other effects of climate change. Also contributing to India’s high ranking is the country’s huge and growing population, which will make coping with climate change all the more difficult.

Other countries ranked as especially at-risk included Asian nations like Nepal, Pakistan, and Vietnam, African countries including Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, and poverty-stricken Haiti. Geography, poverty, and internal conflict were all considered as factors that influence a country’s vulnerability and which make dealing with climate change much more difficult.

The nations of northern Europe were ranked least vulnerable to climate change, both because of their relative wealth that makes adaptation more feasible, and because of predictions that they might actually experience short-term benefits associated with a longer growing season. Yet it would be a mistake for any country to take its safety for granted, as climate change is likely to come with unexpected and unforeseeable consequences. After all, for many years it was assumed Russia would be relatively unscathed by a warming world—until this summer’s dramatic heat wave and disastrous wildfires proved otherwise.

Despite the certainty of unforeseen climate events, having a rough idea of what countries are most vulnerable is important for a variety of reasons. One of the components of any global climate treaty is likely to be some way of directing aid from industrialized countries to those developing nations most at risk from climate change. Thus an ability to channel aid to where it’s most needed is essential. Findings about what climate impacts countries are likely to experience could also serve as a wake-up call to major carbon emitters that are also at extreme risk. India, for instance, is both the second most vulnerable country ranked by Maplecroft, and the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. News that India’s population is very vulnerable to climate change could spur the country to continue pursuing forward-thinking policies like a national carbon tax and investments in renewable energy.

Yet it’s also important to keep in mind that any system ranking vulnerability to climate change deals in matters of degree. The truth is that every part of the world is vulnerable in some way to a changing climate, and allowing runaway climate change to continue is not in any nation’s interest. With the consequences of inaction becoming more evident by the month, the need for all the world’s major economies to dramatically trim back their carbon emissions is more urgent than ever before.

Photo credit: Ahron de Leeuw