Sustainability Climate Change

These are the 10 countries most at risk from the effects of climate change

Steam rises from cooling towers at the Jaenschwalde coal-fired power plant at Jaenschwalde, Germany. The Jaenschwalde power plant is one of the biggest single producers of CO2 gas in Europe.   Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Nearly 500,000 people have died as a direct result of more than 12,000 extreme weather events globally between 1999 and 2018.
  • Climate change not only threatens lives but also the health of the global economy.
  • Of the 10 most affected countries and territories in the period 1999 to 2018, seven were developing countries in the low income or lower-middle income country group.

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the globe, a far more insidious enemy lurks in the background — climate change. It’s a reality that some continue to deny, but as once-glacial landscapes slowly recede and waterside destinations such as Venice, Italy, threaten permanent submersion, the menace of climate change becomes ever-harder to ignore. 

Meanwhile, the populations of certain areas are already beginning to feel the intense effects of climate change, as they manifest in the form of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flash floods and roaring fires. Between 1999 and 2018, around 495,000 people died worldwide as a result of severe weather events. 

Climate change is also projected to have detrimental effects on the global economy. A recent report by Oxford Economics found that the Earth could warm by 2 degrees celsius by 2050, cutting global gross domestic product up to 7.5 percent. Unsurprisingly, the worst affected countries will be some of the poorest in Africa and Asia. Longer term, if temperatures rise 4 degrees celsius by 2100, it could cut output by up to 30 percent. Current estimates of climate finance needs for residual loss and damage range between $290 billion to $580 billion in 2030. 

Some of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs are even standing up and taking notice, such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who on Monday announced plans to release nearly $800 million in grants to some of the country’s most prominent environmental organizations. The $10 billion program, called the Bezos Earth Fund, is one of the biggest charitable commitments ever and the largest to date by Bezos, the world’s richest person.

“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos wrote on his personal Instagram page. “We can all protect Earth’s future by taking bold action now.”

An unequal distribution

There’s no doubt in most scientific projections that climate change will affect every country in the world, but its effects will not be felt equally.

Developing countries, places with high levels of poverty and countries with nonunified governments now face the gravest risks from the changing climate, seeing as they are ill-equipped to find ways to prepare for and prevent environmental threats.

Niall Smith, who analyzes regions’ climate change vulnerability for the global risk consulting firm Maplecroft, told TIME that it’s also necessary to weigh in what’s happening both socially and politically  in a region to determine if the country is able to prepare.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 by environmental and development organization Germanwatch analyzes to what extent countries and regions have been affected by the effects of weather-related events such as storms, floods and heatwaves. For more than 14 years, Germanwatch has presented this report at the United Nations climate conference. 

The organization found that from 1999 to 2018, the areas most affected over time were Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti — effects from extreme weather events hit the poorest countries hardest as they are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of a hazard and therefore have a lower coping capacity, possibly needing more time to rebuild and recover. Germanwatch says that the Climate Risk Index may also serve as a red flag for existing vulnerabilities that may further increase as extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change. 

In the same report Germanwatch also detailed which countries were most affected by extreme weather events in the year 2018, which gives insights into which places may be most vulnerable to climate change moving forward.

The countries most at risk

1. Japan 

In 2018 Japan was hit by three exceptionally strong extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall in July that was measured daily as twice as much what was previously considered the wettest day in the country. The torrential rainfall resulted in flash floods and mudslides, killing more than 200 people and leading to more than 5,000 houses being damaged, as well as the evacuation of 2.3 million people. Damage from the storms amounted to more than $7 billion dollars. From mid-July to the end of August 2018, a severe heat wave also led to 138 fatalities and more than 70,000 people requiring hospitalization due to heat strokes and heat exhaustion. Then, in September, Typhoon Jebi made landfall on the country, becoming the most intense tropical cyclone Japan has seen in more than 25 years. Jebi broke several historical records for sustained winds in Japan, causing economic damage of more than $13 billion dollars.

2. The Philippines

Typhoon Mangkhut ploughed through the northern part of the Philippines back in September 2018 as a category 5 typhoon — the most powerful typhoon recorded worldwide at the time. Mangkhut reached speeds of up to 270 kilometers per hour (about 168 mph) when it made landfall, affecting more than 250,000 people across the country. About 59 people were killed, most by landslides set off by the heavy rainfall.

3. Germany  

One of the more surprising countries to make the list was Germany, which experienced the hottest year since records began due to a severe heatwave. The period between April and July 2018 was the hottest ever recorded in Germany, with temperatures nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit above average. The heatwave led to the death of more than 1,000 people. Also, after heavy rainfall in January, only a percentage of the usual amount of rain fell during summer, resulting in a majority of the country’s soil being affected by drought in October. Around 8,000 farmers were prompted to call for federal emergency relief worth around $1.18 billion dollars in order to compensate for their losses.

4. Madagascar

In January 2018, the island of Madagascar was hit by Cyclone Ava, which made landfall on the eastern part of the island, where towns were flooded and buildings collapsed. Ava reached top speeds of 118 miles per hour and 51 people were killed. Ava was then followed by Cyclone Eliakim in March which affected more than 15,000 people, including 17 deaths and nearly 6,300 temporarily displacements. Cyclone Ava and Eliakim together were responsible for forcing 70,000 people to seek refuge.

5. India

The yearly monsoon season, which lasts from June to September, severely affected India in 2018, especially the state of Kerala — 324 people died due to of drowning or being buried in landslides caused by the flooding, the worst in one hundred years. More than 220,000 people were forced to leave their homes, and 20,000 houses and 80 dams were destroyed. The damage amounted to $2.8 billion.cyclones Cyclones Titli and Gaja also hit India’s east coast in October and November 2018. With wind speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour (roughly 93 mph), cyclone Titli killed at least eight people and left about 450,000 without electricity.

6. Sri Lanka 

The island nation of Sri Lanka, right off the coast of India, dealt with severe monsoon rains in May 2018 affecting 20 districts, especially the south and west coast. The provinces of Galle and Kalutara were the most affected, with Galle receiving more than 6 inches of rain fell in 24 hours — usually the district has an average precipitation of 11 inches of rain in the full month of May. At least 24 people died, more than 170,000 people were affected and nearly 6,000 people were displaced.

7. Kenya 

Seasonal rains affected both the African countries of Kenya and Rwanda as well as other countries in East Africa. Between March and July 2018, Kenya experienced almost twice the normal rainfall of their typical wet season. The country’s most important rivers in the central highlands overflowed, affecting 40 out of 47 counties and causing the deaths of 183 people, injuring 97 people and displacing more than 300,000 people.

8. Rwanda

The heavy rains of March 2018 also affected Rwanda, causing flooding along its Sebeya River. Roughly 25,000 people from 5,000 households were affected, and their homes were either destroyed or damaged by mud and overflow. The floods aggravated cholera cases and resulted in an epidemic of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which causes fever, joint pain and rashes.

9. Canada 

Our northern neighbors started the year 2018 with extremely cold temperatures of -49 degrees Fahrenheit — their lowest in 100 years. In May more than 4,000 people were displaced because of flooding, which afflicted the southern region of British Columbia. Heavy snowpacks were melted by record high temperatures in April, causing rivers to overflow. The same region suffered the worst wildfire season on record resulting in the evacuation of 16,000 people, as 2,117 wildfires burned through the region and caused smoke-filled skies in west Canada, making the air quality among the worst in the world.

10. Fiji

The island of Fiji suffered the effects of three cyclones between February and April 2018. Cyclone Gita, with peak sustained winds of 78 miles per hour, reached the South of Fiji and caused more than $1 million dollars in damages and the evacuation of 288 people. Two weeks later, Cyclone Josie and the severe flooding that followed killed eight people and more than 2,000 were displaced. Keni was the last cyclone of the season, making landfall in April and affecting the area of Kadavu as a category 3 tropical cyclone. Nearly 9,000 people had to leave their homes.