The almost two-decade Notre Dame project indexes various factors to assess risk and readiness
To the average layperson, the possible effects of climate change can seem both frightening and unpredictable. A long-standing research project, however, is tracking how countries are interacting with their environs, and gives a good idea of what results each country can expect.
The ND-GAIN Index, a project of the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), has been compiled and released since 1995 is order to show which countries are best (or worst) prepared to handle changes brought on by overcrowding, resource-constraints, climate disruption, and other complex forces. Beyond simply providing global data in this area, the ND-GAIN’s mission is to “enhance the world’s understanding of the importance of adaptation and facilitate public and private investments in vulnerable communities,” the group’s website explains.
Part of the Environmental Change Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, the ND-GAIN Index has influenced strategic and operational decisions with its data for almost two decades by ranking 177 countries according to its assessments. Using a data-driven approach, the team assesses included countries according to “vulnerability” and “readiness,” also taking a country’s GDP into account as part of its methodology.
Vulnerability, the researchers explain, is defined as “exposure and sensitivity to climate, population, infrastructure, and resource stress, as well as the country’s adaptive capacity to those stresses,” and focuses on the life-supporting sectors of food, water, health, ecosystem service, human habitat, and infrastructure. For example, Norway — which received the top spot in this year’s rankings — was found to be the 4th least vulnerable country in the global survey and yet the 5th most ready in terms of facing climate change. Among others, its strengths include projected steadiness in its rates of human health, crop production, and resource availability. Despite having a large coastline, its large distance from the equator makes it less vulnerable to the potentially hazardous effects of rising ocean levels, which will likely take a far greater toll in tropical and equatorial zones. “Adaptation challenges still exist,” the index notes, “but Norway is well positioned to adapt.”
Readiness, the index’s second criterion, is defined how prepared a country is to “leverage investments and convert them to adaptation actions” according to social, governance, and economic factors. Sudan — which has an upward trend but was nevertheless ranked 173rd out of 177 countries — is vulnerable because of sinking rates in food availability, age dependency ratios, and other factors, but was also assessed as being the 12th least ready country. With its government and social climes found to be unstable and frequently at risk of violence, Sudan seems unlikely — according to the index — to be able to raise and accept needed investments, or to implement needed change in order to support at-risk communities in the face of climate threats. Overall, the nation “has both a great need for investment and innovations to improve readiness and a great urgency for action,” the 2014 study concluded.