LONDON (AlertNet) - Flood-hit countries in Latin America and Asia – particularly Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan – were the most severely affected by climate change in 2011, according to rankings released Tuesday.
But the United States soared up the worst-hit list as a result of a spate of tornados, record-breaking temperatures and intense hurricanes in 2011 - which suggests the country’s recent damage from Hurricane Sandy may be part of a trend toward greater vulnerability to climate impacts.
The United States, which has been on the most-affected list previously, including after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, moved from 30th place in 2010 to 7th last year.
Increasingly frequent extreme weather suggests “they should definitely be concerned over the impacts on economics and people,” said Sven Harmeling, a lead author of the Global Climate Risk Index 2013 report by Germanwatch, which works on environment and development issues.
The report, he said, “adds to the message of the significant impacts we’re already facing today from climate change, and we hope will give impetus for some comprehensive action on loss and damage” - the question of how to deal with the negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people are unable to cope with or adapt to, and who should pay for it.
That issue is expected to be one of the emerging focuses at the U.N.-led global climate negotiations, which began Monday in Doha, Qatar.
“The problem of climate change damages… is being granted increasing weight in the negotiations, in part because climate change mitigation is lagging behind what is required, but also because adaptation action remains insufficient,” the Germanwatch report noted.
It found that the countries most affected by extreme weather in 2011 were, in descending order, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, El Salvador, the Philippines, Brazil, the United States, Laos, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. All were hit by flooding as a result of intense hurricanes or other storms, or extreme rainfall.
MIDDLE EAST AT RISK
The index also looked at the countries most affected by extreme weather over the last two decades, from 1992 to 2011. Honduras, Myanmar and Nicaragua topped that list, followed by Bangladesh, Haiti, Vietnam, North Korea, Pakistan, Thailand and Dominican Republic.
Over that period, more than 530,000 people died as a direct result of extreme weather, and losses topped $2.5 trillion in current dollars, the report said. Honduras appears in the rankings largely because of damage from Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and Myanmar as a result of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Bangladesh’s move down the list – it had been the most-affected country last year – is in part due to a devastating 1991 cyclone falling out of the 20-year time frame. But it “can also be seen as an indication that Bangladesh managed to avoid similarly disastrous events through investing substantially into its own adaptive capacity” and becoming a world leader in climate adaptation, the report noted.
Across the globe, “many developing countries are already taking action to prepare for climate-related disasters” and to adapt to climate impacts, the report said. But “adequate financial and institutional support provided by developed countries is required to further increase disaster preparedness and the resilience of poor countries,” it noted.
The report warned that while the countries of the Middle East – the region hosting this year’s negotiations – do not figure prominently in the rankings, they import as much as 90 percent of their food and have the lowest renewable water supplies per capita in the world, so are at substantial risk from climate impacts.
Losses and damage as a result of climate change are “expected to further increase, potentially with large-scale dangerous impacts if the global community does not immediately scale up its action to mitigation climate change” and support adaptation to climate impacts, the report warned.
Countries ranked as particularly vulnerable should look at the report “as a warning signal to prepare for more frequent or more severe events in the future”, the authors wrote.