Select but diverse countries are reducing both climate vulnerability and CO2 emissions
It seems straightforward: to best avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, countries must both mitigate future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate risks already set in motion. Surprisingly, however, these two actions aren’t always taken simultaneously – which often leaves countries reducing their climate vulnerability while increasing their own emissions levels. This paradox is explored by IonE Postdoctoral Research Associate Martina Grecequet and IonE Director Jessica J. Hellmann in new research published this month in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.
The study, Select but diverse countries are reducing both climate vulnerability and CO2 emissions, explores past and present trends of CO2 emissions and climate vulnerability in 179 countries between 1995 and 2015 to determine where and when the two can be jointly reduced. Climate vulnerability is a measure of the predisposition of human society to experience impacts from climate hazards, and the ND-GAIN Country Index used in this study accounts for anticipated challenges in relation to food, water, health, ecosystem services, human habitat, and infrastructure. Carbon dioxide emissions, presented in this study using the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR 4.2), includes emissions of fossil fuel use and industrial processes.
The team’s research demonstrates that regardless of climate vulnerability status (which tends to be high in low-emitting countries and low in high-emitting countries), reducing GHG emissions while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change is a challenge to nearly all nations. Yet there’s hope: 42 of geographically and economically disparate countries are successfully reducing both climate vulnerability and CO2 emissions. These nations include the United States, the Czech Republic, Gabon, and Singapore.
Grecequet describes these very different countries as “lights in the dark,” proof that strategies for adapting while moving off fossil fuels and reducing GHG emissions do exist and are being successfully implemented. Hellmann agrees.
“We often assume that adaptation is expensive and rich countries do it better than poorer ones, but the data suggest that the relationship between country wealth and adaptation action is not so simple,” she notes. “There are countries across the economic spectrum making positive progress, on both reducing their emissions and preparing for climate change. And these countries are examples for others.”
How are they doing it? That’s tough to say. “It is difficult to find any pattern of what drives reduction of climate vulnerability and greenhouse gas emissions across different countries,” explains Grecequet. “One of the reasons is that there are many different solutions that range from technological, ecological to social changes. Next for this research is to look at the specific solutions – to see what works where and why. ”
The study concludes that a well-designed climate policy should aim to reduce both GHG emissions and climate vulnerability, and maximize their co-benefits. “Global climate policy should move beyond allocating responsibilities for GHG emissions,” says Grecequet. “It is essential that all countries, least to most vulnerable, around the world shift from one-sided climate change policy and start prioritizing strategies that lead to reduction in both GHG emissions and climate vulnerability simultaneously.”
Grace Becker is the Communications Assistant at IonE and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she studies strategic communication, sustainability studies, and Spanish.