Sustainability Climate Change

The 10 countries most likely to survive the imminent threats of climate change

The Norwegian Island of Utsira is home to 40-meter tall wind turbines — part of a project to transform surplus wind power into easily storable hydrogen.   NINA LARSON/AFP via 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.
  • Many of the countries deemed “most likely” to survive the detrimental effects of climate change can be found in Scandinavia.
  • Of the ten 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.

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

The countries most likely to suffer in the battle against climate change are often the planet’s poorest and least developed, as they lack the resources and infrastructure to bounce back after catastrophic weather events. This was hypothesized by the University of Notre Dame’s ND-Gain Index — a report that analyzed 181 countries based on a variety of factors that contribute to vulnerability to climate change, as well as their readiness to adapt to a warming planet. Factors considered include healthcare, food supply and government stability. 

A group called the Eco Experts scrutinized Notre Dame’s data to come up with a list of the countries most likely to survive the effects of climate change, accounting for factors like the amount of carbon dioxide emitted each year by the 181 countries. 

What they found is that the bottom-10 list is filled with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with Somalia being identified as the country least likely to survive changes of climate change. These nations fared poorly due to poor infrastructure, unstable governance, lack of healthcare and scarcity of food and water.

The least vulnerable countries were largely Scandinavian and relatively wealthy, with unified governments that have established lofty goals of future carbon neutrality. The findings also highlight the need for these wealthier, more established nations to support the world’s most vulnerable countries moving forward.

“With climate change described as one of the greatest challenges of our time, the impacts of destructive changes in temperature, rainfall and agriculture will affect every country. These findings highlight the need for richer, more technologically advanced nations to help less developed countries,” says environmental researcher Jonathan Whiting. “Ultimately there will be no winners from the effects of climate change, every country will be impacted in some way. Just how much depends on the decisions made now by world leaders.”

The top countries ranked by resilience to climate change

  1. Norway

The Nordic nation consistently ranks high when it comes to its abilities to tackle climate change, and in 2020 Norway submitted its enhanced Paris Agreement target, set at reducing emissions by at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Norway also continues to lead with its record share of electric cars — in 2019 the share of electric vehicles sold in the country increased to a whopping 42 percent. 

Walking around the country it’s clear to see what Norway’s priorities are, as smart streetlights light up the pavements and automatically lowers the level of light in many homes and buildings when no one is around to save power. 

2. New Zealand

New Zealand, like many other countries, has a vested interest in mitigating climate change. But the Oceanian country has a particular reason: its wealth is largely dependent on natural resources. Agricultural commodities, wood products, fishing and tourism are all important to the country’s economic health, and economists estimate that nearly 80 percent of these exports are sensitive to climate change. 

The country’s social system is projected to fare well against the threat of climate change though, with its significant component of social welfare and minimal to non-existent levels of corruption and abuse in its government system. At the end of 2019, New Zealand passed a law that sets a net zero goal for all greenhouse gases by 2050 save for biogenic methane which is mostly emitted by sheep and cattle.

3. Finland

Finland’s climate policy is often touted for its two-pronged approach, aimed at both the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the development of a bioeconomy. The European country’s Climate Change Act implemented a policy that aims to reduce emissions by a staggering 80 percent by 2050, and more immediate goals for 2030 are aimed at reducing emissions in transportation, housing and agriculture. 

The country’s enormous tracts of forestland and stores of renewable biomass have also become a major focus for energy production over the coming decades, as the use of wood-based energy already accounts for almost 25 percent of its total energy usage. Finland has also implemented a Cleantech initiative, which provides incentives for sustainable consumption, production and innovation.

4. Denmark

An aggressive new climate law was passed by Denmark’s parliament last December, aimed at reducing the country’s carbon emissions to 70 percent of its 1990 levels by 2030. The country’s longer term goals include carbon neutrality by 2050. 

According to legislation the government will be held accountable to these goals by setting a legally binding emissions target across sectors of the economy every five years, and Parliament can force the minister for climate and energy out of office if insufficient progress is made.

5. Sweden

The Scandinavian country of Sweden’s climate goals include reducing emissions by 59 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2030, with emissions from domestic transport set to be reduced by an even higher 70 percent by the same year. Sweden has also gone above and beyond to create a council of climate policy experts in an effort to further mitigate emissions. 

The country’s clean energy sector has seen huge strides, as renewables like hydropower and biofuel now account for 54 percent of Sweden’s energy consumption. Its efforts to educate the public on climate issues is helping too, as a survey found that 26 percent of Swedes cite climate change and the state of the environment as a cause for concern, compared with an EU average of just 6 percent. 

6. Switzerland

The small, land-locked country of Switzerland was actually the first in the world to submit a formal climate plan for cutting emissions until 2030 to the United Nations back in 2015, months before the Paris climate deal was even adopted. They’ve recently reaffirmed plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, joining only a handful of other nations that communicated with the UN this year. 

7. Singapore

The technology-driven Singapore is certainly not insulated from the worsening effects of climate change, its annual mean temperature and sea level rising over the last few decades. The Meteorological Service Singapore’s Centre for Climate Research suggests that in a worst case scenario, floods could rise by almost 4 meters, factoring in effects like storm surges — an increase that would submerge cities from New York to Shanghai and London if repeated globally. To combat these projected effects Singapore has been devising a $72 billion plan to safeguard itself against rising temperatures and floodwaters. 

8. Austria

The Austrian “Greens” party had a series of wins earlier this year after weeks of negotiations with Sebastian Kurz, the leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party. The result is a coalition deal that will see the Greens heading four ministries, including those that take on the environment and justice portfolios. Austria will now be seeking carbon neutrality by 2040, and will be putting a price on CO2 emissions.

By 2030, all of Austria’s electricity is projected to be produced by renewable energy sources, and the cost of flying will be bumped up in an effort to get more of its citizens to resort to travel by train.

9. Iceland

Last August, the tiny Nordic nation of Iceland held a funeral for the Okjökull Glacier, the first Icelandic glacier lost to the effects of climate change. Now, Iceland aims to achieve carbon neutrality before the year 2040 and seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. Its Climate Action Plan contains no less than 48 planned actions to help it reach its goals of cutting emissions and to reach carbon neutrality.

10. Germany

Despite the fact that Germany was ranked as one of the hardest hit countries by climate change weather events in 2018, the European country aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, with a preliminary target of cutting emissions by at least 55 percent before the year 2030 as compared to its 1990 levels. 

The country passed its first national climate law just last year, which stated annual reduction targets for individual sectors such as industry and transport until the year 2030. In case a target is missed or overshot, the law reads that the difference will be spread out evenly over the remaining annual emissions budgets of the sector until 2030.