A major new mapping study, analysing climate change vulnerability down to 25km² worldwide, has revealed some of the world’s fastest growing populations are increasingly at risk from the impacts of climate related natural hazards and sea level rise.
Many of the countries with the fastest population growth are rated as ‘extreme risk’ in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) released by risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft. These include the strategically important emerging economies of Bangladesh (2nd), Philippines (10th), Viet Nam (23rd), Indonesia (27th) and India (28th).
The CCVI forms part of Maplecroft’s fourth annual Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas. It features subnational maps and analysis of climate change vulnerability and the adaptive capacity to combat climate change in 193 countries.
It analyses the exposure of populations to climate related natural hazards and sensitivity of countries in terms of population concentration, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency and conflict.
At a national level, the CCVI rates 30 countries at ‘extreme risk,’ with the top 10 comprising of Haiti, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Cambodia, Mozambique, DR Congo, Malawi and the Philippines.
The value of Maplecroft’s research is much better appreciated at a subnational level, where risks to towns, cities, economic zones and individual company assets can be identified through interactive maps, which chart vulnerability, exposure and sensitivity to climate change down to 25km² worldwide. For instance, extreme hotpots of vulnerability can be seen in the South West of Brazil and coastal regions of China, but both countries are rated ‘medium risk’ by the CCVI the national level.
Vulnerability on this scale is illustrated particularly well when looking at the effects of climate change on the megacities of Asia; some of which have the highest rates of population growth, along with extreme vulnerability to climate change.
Of the world’s 20 fastest growing cities, six have been classified as ‘extreme risk’ by the CCVI, including the major Asian economic centres of Calcutta in India, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia and Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh. Addis Ababa in Ethiopia also features. A further 10 are rated as ‘high risk’ including Guangdong, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Karachi and Lagos.
According to Maplecroft, population growth in these cities combines with poor government effectiveness, corruption, poverty and other socio-economic factors to increase the risks to residents and business. Infrastructures, which cannot cope at 2011 levels, will therefore struggle to adapt to large population rises in the future, making disaster responses less effective, whilst at the same time these disasters themselves may become more frequent. This has implications for buildings, transportation routes, water and energy supply and the health of the residents.
“Cities such as Manila, Jakarta and Calcutta are vital centres of economic growth in key emerging markets, but heat waves, flooding, water shortages and increasingly severe and frequent storm events may well increase as climate changes takes hold” states Principal Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft Dr Charlie Beldon. “The impacts of this could have far reaching consequences, not only for local populations, but on business, national economies and on the balance sheets of investors around the world, particularly as the economic importance of these nations is set to dramatically increase.”
Manila, the commercial centre of the Philippines, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to a combination of exposure to hazards, poor socio-economic factors and a low capacity to adapt. The city is predicted to grow by 2.23 million residents between 2010 and 2020 an increase of nearly 20%. It is particularly at risk of flooding and typhoon activity, having the highest exposure to these events out of the twenty growth cities.
In July 2010 Typhoon Conson hit near to Manila killing 146 and affecting over half a million people. Events such as this could well increase in frequency and severity, which should make improvements to the adaptive capacity of the city a priority for the national government of the Philippines.
“The expansion of population must be met with an equal expansion of infrastructure and civic amenities. As these megacities grow, more people are forced to live on exposed land, often on flood plains or other marginal land, adds Dr Beldon. “It is therefore the poorest citizens that will be most exposed to the effects of climate change, and the least able to cope with the effects.”
This is witnessed by the large slum populations, which are present in many of the rapidly growing cities and where residents frequently have fragile livelihoods and poor access to basic resources, such as clean water.
In Calcutta, which is predicted to increase by 3.1 million people to18.7 million by 2020, approximately one third of the current population live in slums. Calcutta is highly exposed to sea level rise and coastal flooding and the predicted population growth will place more people within these vulnerable areas.
Thailand, another rapidly growing economy is presently bearing the brunt of a potential climate related disaster. Since July nearly 350 people have died in severe floods. Government estimates suggest that the floods have cost up to $US3.9 bn so far and economic growth forecasts have been correspondingly cut.
However the concentration of technical firms in flood affected areas could well result in wider disruptions to global supply chains; Thailand is the world’s largest producer of hard-disk drives. In the face of climate change businesses with global supply chains and investors should take note of Thailand’s recent flood experience.