Notre Dame's global index ranks climate preparedness

Which countries are best prepared to handle the impacts of climate change? During today's OnPoint, Joyce Coffee, managing director of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, discusses her organization's yearly assessment of countries' ability and readiness to adapt to climate change and explains how the world's leaders in adaptation are improving their resiliency.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Joyce Coffee, manager of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. Joyce, it's great to have you here.

Joyce Coffee: Great to be here. Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Joyce, your work focuses on individual countries' vulnerability to climate change and an assessment of its ability and readiness to adapt. What makes your approach different, and how is it fitting into the global conversation on adaptation?

Joyce Coffee: Well, I think the global conversation on adaptation has really grown. We're seeing many more impacts, not only with the extreme events in the United States between Hurricane Sandy and the droughts in Texas, the fires in Colorado, and of course, what we're currently experiencing in California, but around the world, a growing concern about the number of people that are affected every year by climate impacts. One of the things that is really important about the Global Adaptation Index is, as the world's leading index of countries, showing which countries are best prepared to deal with climate disruptions and overcrowding on natural resource constraints, is that we look at not only those things that you and I might call "vulnerability," so things to do with health and ecosystems, water, food, and infrastructure, but also readiness. And that readiness, for us, has to do with the readiness to accept adaptation investment, and that's really the unique feature of the Global Adaptation Index because readiness is really the question that you and I would ask, were there to be a big risk that would hit our families.

Monica Trauzzi: So what steps do you take to, then, compare countries and, eventually, rank them?

Joyce Coffee: Well, the Global Adaptation Index is a ranking of 177 countries against 45 indicators across over 18 years of data, and what we're looking at there are these vulnerabilities that are both exposure vulnerabilities, but also, adaptive capacities within countries, and also, then, social capacity, governance and economic structures. And the reason for those readiness indicators is that our major stakeholder for the index that we create every year and release around this time are governments, but also, development officials and the private sector. And from the perspective of all three of those stakeholders, what keeps them up at night isn't necessarily the vulnerabilities; it's actually things that deal with economics and governance.

Monica Trauzzi: So when it comes to building an actual plan, is it the government's responsibility, or do we see most successful things occurring when it's a public-private partnership?

Joyce Coffee: You know, I mean, our research shows that poor people around the world are 10 times more likely to experience a climate event than those of us in upper-income countries. So when you think about the numbers of people around the world that are being impacted every day more and more by climate impacts, you realize that it's every sector's responsibility. Certainly, this is a great opportunity for public-private partnerships because with the conference of the parties and other U.N. protocols, they're dedicated to giving over $100 billion to lower-income countries for climate action starting in 2020 every year, but the real question is, where is all that money going to come from, and how is it going to be prioritized? So the corporate sector has a huge role to play, and they need help identifying both opportunities and risks to address their funds to.

Monica Trauzzi: So who's at the top of your list this year, and what are they doing that's different and right?

Joyce Coffee: Yeah. Great question. I mean, Scandinavian countries have persistently been on the leaderboard for the Global Adaptation Index, and the United States, also, is within the top 10 at No. 8 in our 2014 release. What they're doing right has a lot to do with access -- access to water, access to food, access to infrastructure that works, medical care, but also preparation, so having a disaster plan -- the Hyogo Framework is an excellent framework for countries to determine whether or not they're ready for that next big event -- and also, having governance, so a fair will of law, transparency, educated workforce and equality are really important features of that leaderboard top 10.

Monica Trauzzi: And as you mentioned earlier, poor countries rank the lowest. So what lessons can those poor countries learn from these top five and implement in their own countries?

Joyce Coffee: Well, yeah, that's a great question. I will say that it's not a categorical, that if you are a poor country, you are more at risk. Certainly, there are many exposure variables that are different, regardless of whether you're poor or rich -- exposure to extreme events like cyclones and drought and so on -- but there are also a lot of really extraordinary examples in poor countries of increasing resiliency, and I think those examples, along with a leaderboard, help indicate what it takes to be a more resilient nation.

For instance, Rwanda is growing in resiliency in comparison to its peers by leaps and bounds. It's come up the index over 45 places in the last seven years, and this has a lot to do with the investments that it's made in health and in education and in really rebounding from some extraordinarily tough societal issues, you know, earlier in the decade. There are, though, many things that countries like Rwanda -- or Cambodia, another example. In the ASEA Nations, Cambodia and Laos are making some extraordinary progress on decreasing their vulnerabilities and increasing their readiness.

The leaderboard shows us that when you have fewer slums, better infrastructure, more paved roads, less reliance on hydropower, in some cases, a lot more ability to grow your own food, and even less reliance on natural capital, which is clearly at risk and changing dramatically in this era of these global shifts, you are a more resilient nation.

Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting. We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Joyce Coffee: Thank you so much, Monica. It was a pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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