High in the Peruvian Andes 8,000 alpacas died during a particularly harsh period of cold in the summer of 2004. For the herders who raise and shear these long-haired beasts for a living, it was a huge loss amounting to one fifth of all the alpacas living in that region of the highlands. Since then international aid organizations have worked with local herders to prevent future losses in the face of extreme cold snaps that seem to be occurring more frequently there with climate change. Together, they have built 44 sheds for the surviving alpacas, planted barley and other crops as a backup food source for when grazing is not possible and installed a better forecasting system so that herders know when a cold front is coming.
As countries around the world rush to prepare for more extreme temperatures and rising sea levels to come with a changing climate, some are much further ahead than others. Earlier this month 178 countries were ranked by climate preparedness—a metric to assess how well nations might adapt to climate change—in an annual update to an online tool called the Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), hosted by University of Notre Dame.
As measured by the tool, four of the top five highest-ranked countries, based on 2013 data, are in northern Europe. Norway is the most prepared to handle climate change, followed by New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. All of the five least prepared countries are in Africa including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Burundi, with Chad finishing last. Peru, with its alpacas, came in at 82nd place in the rankings. There is a strong correlation between gross domestic product and a country’s ranking, although an online tool allows users to adjust scores for GDP. Click here for the full rankings.
Program administrators hope that their annual exercise may inspire leaders in countries that are lagging behind to take action or allow investors to pick the economies that may soon be most profitable. The Peace Corps has used the tool to target its development work to vulnerable areas. “As corporations are feeling impacts in their value chains, as governments are having to invest more in cleanup after extreme events and as more humans are impacted by what leaders are willing to call climate-related events, we are certainly seeing more attention to adaptation and resiliency,” says Joyce Coffee, managing director of ND-GAIN.
The analysis delineates the most prepared nations from the least based on 45 indicators measuring the rate of fresh water withdrawal, the robustness of a country’s medical staff, the ability of the government to enforce regulations and the number of people living at least five meters above sea level. Based on this information administrators assess the risk that climate change poses to a nation and the ability of its citizenry and infrastructure to absorb or respond to that risk.
Although Norway has won the top spot since the index was founded in 1995, other countries have made significant gains or losses in that time. The island nation of Grenada in the Caribbean has dropped 21 spots since 1995 with a poor rating for its dependency on food imports and sensitivity to future heat waves. Although Rwanda still ranks among the bottom third, during the same indexed period it moved up 38 spots in its ND-GAIN ranking with steady improvements in political stability, access to education and the fight against corruption. “What we found most astounding is the very vulnerable countries that have improved their readiness,” Coffee says. “Their vulnerability is extreme—however, they have made great strides in improving their governments, their economic opportunity and their social stability.” She adds that these counties should be considered “standouts” for receiving international aid designated for climate adaptation projects.
The U.S. has always finished among the top 10 most prepared nations and this year it placed eighth for the second year in a row. The country’s vulnerability score improved slightly as more rural residents moved to cities but was harmed by ongoing drought in the U.S. West.
ND-GAIN started with sponsorship by a natural resource investment fund as part of the Global Adaptation Institute, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. In 2013 the project moved to Notre Dame and was accompanied by a $2-million donation from the Natural Gas Partners Foundation, an affiliate of that fund. Over time, 500,000 pieces of data have been added and analyzed in the effort to generate the annual rankings, which exclude some countries for lack of reliable data.
All of the data that is loaded into the system is freely available through the ND-GAIN Web site and may be repurposed through a Creative Commons license. Users may also use a map to compare and contrast the preparedness of world regions as well as individual nations.