IIt’s no secret that global climate change is hurting the economy. With more frequent and severe storms, floods, droughts and fires, countries around the world are already taking economic hits. And as long-term events like sea level rise and temperature patterns continue to affect agriculture and human health, the economic damage will only grow.
However, the impact will be unevenly distributed. A recent report from S&P Global assessed how 135 countries could be affected by climate-related events in 2050. Economic risk levels ranged from 0% of GDP (indicating that the economy is unlikely to be exposed to climate hazards) to 100% of GDP (the the whole economy could be exposed to the vagaries of the weather). The measure only predicts economic vulnerability, not economic loss. For example, a country exposed to 80% of GDP does not mean that 80% of the economy will be wiped out in 30 years, but rather that 80% of the economy is at risk to suffer a loss.
Using these percentages, TIME “mapped” countries on a scale from blue to red to see which economies are least and most at risk. But instead of a standard map – one with, say, borders and oceans – we considered each country as a latitudinal point. The result was a graphic that looks a bit like a volcano turned sideways.
What this shows is that economies that have huge physical climate risks – in some cases 100% exposed – are typically within 20 degrees of the equator. And none are in the far north or south of the globe. On the other hand, countries with minimal risk lie in a wide range of latitudes, but are more pole-oriented.
To arrive at these figures, S&P Global researchers looked at how much of each country’s land area is likely to experience wildfires, storms, floods and sea level rise, as well as how much land agriculture exposed to the risk of water stress and the working population affected. by extreme heat.
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There are several reasons why this geographic pattern exists. On the one hand, a number of nations at or near the size of the Earth are small island states highly vulnerable to massive storms that can devastate infrastructure and cripple their most dependent industries, such as tourism. Additionally, many of the countries around the equator have less diversified economies that rely on physical labor to produce goods. Extreme heat can have devastating effects on labor productivity in these countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, high-income, service-oriented countries like Botswana and South Africa, which sit at the forefront of the continent, have 19% exposure and 0% of GDP; low-income countries like Ethiopia and Burkina Faso which are more dependent on agriculture and industry and are just above the equator, have a GDP exposure of 93% and 99%, respectively .
A separate component of the study looked at how prepared each country might be to adapt to climate impacts on a scale of 1 (most ready) to 6 (least ready). This score is not a factor in the GDP risk assessment, but is used to show how prepared each country is to deal with these risks.
When TIME plotted this readiness rating against the latitude of the country, the trends, especially at the ends of the readiness scale, were even more pronounced than the GDP exposure. Of the countries with the highest readiness score, only the highly developed city-state of Singapore sits on the equator. And conversely, almost all of the countries with the worst readiness score are within 20 degrees of the equator.
Taken together, the graphs indicate that countries in northern and southern latitudes are more likely to have the resources to best prepare for climate effects, even if their economies are least at risk. Indeed, these nations, especially those on the European continent, have diversified and service-based economies that can take the blows of Mother Nature. They are also wealthier and more technologically advanced, allowing them to allocate resources to climate change adaptation efforts.
Although S&P Global has not quantified GDP losses at the national level due to uncertainty surrounding the reliability of data at that level, it has calculated an estimate for global regions and the world. He revealed that 4% of the global economy could be lost to the impacts of climate change by 2050, assuming countries meet their current commitments to tackle climate change. As Marion Amiot, one of the study’s authors, points out, such a small loss may not seem serious, but it would be even worse than the 3.4% drop in global GDP in 2020 due to COVID-19.
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