By Megan Rowling
Another month, another climate vulnerability index. Or so it seems.
The problem is they all measure 'vulnerability' to climate change from a different perspective and using different methods. They use a different set of countries for their calculations. And of course, they produce different results.
Confused? So am I.
The latest one to drop into my inbox is from the international NGO ActionAid. Out on Monday, it measures 28 developing nations' susceptibility to an impending "triple crisis of climate change, depleted natural resources and rocketing food prices".
There are two rankings - one scoring the group on how vulnerable they are to climate-driven food crises and another assessing how prepared they are to cope with the increasingly dire circumstances predicted by many experts.
So who's on the brink of hunger disaster and who's most likely to survive?
The vulnerability scorecard uses current hunger levels and child malnutrition rates to assess underlying food insecurity. It then adds in environmental and land degradation as a proxy for the risks to the agricultural sector from present and future climate shifts.
According to these indicators, the top 10 most vulnerable countries are: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, South Africa, Haiti, Bangladesh, Zambia, India, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
When it comes to preparedness and ability to cope, the aid agency gauged policy interventions that could mitigate hunger and climate risks, including support for agriculture, rural development and small farmers. It also assessed countries' plans to adapt their agricultural sectors to growing pressures from climate change.
Those seen as most resilient are: Brazil, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal, Uganda, Bangladesh, Haiti and South Africa.
"Overall, many of those countries most likely to be climate and hunger hotspots by 2050 appear to be doing least to adapt to and confront the challenge," says the report. This isn't really a surprise, and neither is the fact that the top 10 countries regarded as most vulnerable to hunger include seven African nations.
I was a little more intrigued to see Haiti feature in the top 10 most-prepared countries in the group – an assessment others might disagree with. It made the grade seemingly because it has a high agricultural budget and good gender guidelines.
And it's interesting to find Pakistan ranked as the least prepared of all, even lower than DRC, mainly because of its poor adaptation policies and low levels of funding for food and agriculture in the face of the devastation to farms from recent floods.
TOP 10 TEST
Another index recently written about by a colleague - the Global Adaptation Index - takes a different view of which countries are most vulnerable to climate-related hunger: Central African Republic, followed by Angola, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, the small Pacific-island state of Nauru, Burundi, Mauritania, Somalia, Yemen and Senegal.
Oddly, Burundi is the only country in the top 10 of both indices, which ostensibly measure a similar thing.
One glaringly obvious explanation is that the ActionAid ranking covers only 28 countries, and doesn't include most of the countries in the top 10 food component of the Global Adaptation Index, which evaluates the hunger risk and other challenges for some 175 states.
In fact, this is the third year ActionAid has produced its "HungerFREE Scorecard", but only the first time it has introduced a climate angle, which it added because of the growing threat of climate change to agriculture and food security.
ActionAid focused on only 28 countries, the report says, because they all participate in the agency's HungerFREE campaign, intended to force governments to deliver on their commitment to halve world hunger by 2015.
ActionAid staff and partners in those nations are able to provide first-hand information about the policies and programmes of their governments towards ending hunger and adapting to climate change. Another important consideration in the choice of countries was the availability of reliable comparative data across various indicators, the agency says.
That’s all well and good. But it makes it somewhat tricky to put the rankings in a truly international context because a lot of vulnerable countries are missing.
TAKE YOUR PICK
What's more, there are several other country-by-country assessments of climate vulnerability that use varying criteria.
In early September, for example, the World Risk Index, which ranks 173 countries, put three Pacific island nations among the five countries most at risk of disasters, together with the Philippines and Guatemala, using a methodology that measures social vulnerability as well as exposure to natural hazards and climate change.
Another "climate vulnerability monitor" issued at the end of last year assesses 184 countries according to the estimated effects of climate change in four key areas: health; weather disasters; human habitat loss from rising seas and desertification; and economic stresses on natural resources and other relevant sectors.
But it doesn't rank the countries, instead grouping them into categories from acute to low vulnerability for 2010 and 2030.
Those hardest-hit today are mainly fragile or failed states, including Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar and Somalia, as well as West African countries prone to food shortages, according to the report.
All this is not to say that the growing band of indices don't serve a purpose - as long as you understand what it is they are measuring, and preferably how and why.
In general what they tell us is that impoverished countries with governments that do a bad job of protecting their people in parts of the world that suffer from extreme weather and/or rising sea levels are likely to be hit hardest by climate change.
They suggest that someone (preferably those same governments) had better hurry up and take action, for which they'll need financial and technical backing from the international community.
Arguably their biggest value is reminding us that more needs to be done to address climate vulnerability.
In the meantime, it might be handy if a qualified expert could attempt a rather more forensic examination of the various rankings out there. Index of climate vulnerability indices, anyone?