Want to Know a Country’s Economic Future? Check Its Latitude

Itt’s no secret that global climate change hurts the economy. Countries around the globe are suffering economic losses due to more frequent, severe and prolonged storms, flooding and droughts. The economic impact of long-term changes like climate change and rising sea levels will continue to grow.

But the effects will not all be equally distributed. A recent report from S&P Global assessed how 135 countries might be affected by climate-related events in 2050. Economic risk levels varied from 0% to 100% (indicating the economy is unlikely to be affected by climate hazards) and between 0 to 100% (indicating that all of society could be at high risk). The measurement predicts only economic vulnerability—not economic loss. For example, a country with 80% GDP exposure doesn’t mean that 80% of the economy will be wiped out in 30 years, but rather that 80% of the economy is at riskOf experiencing loss.

Using these percentages, TIME “mapped” countries on a blue-to-red scale to see which economies are in least and most danger. But instead of a standard map—one with, say, borders and oceans—we looked at each country as a latitudinal point. This chart looks somewhat like an upside-down volcano.

What this shows is that economies that have huge physical climate risk—in some cases 100% exposed—are generally within 20 degrees of the equator. There are none in the most northern or southern areas of the planet. However, the countries with minimal risk tend to be from wide latitudes but are closer to the poles.

To arrive at these numbers, S&P Global researchers considered how much of each country’s area is prone to experience wildfires, storms, floods, and rising sea levels, as well as how much of agricultural land is at risk of water stress, and workforce population impacted by extreme heat.

Continue reading: One Island Nation’s Controversial Plan to Take Climate Justice Into Its Own Hands

These geographic patterns exist for several reasons. For one, a number of nations at or near Earth’s waistline are small island states that are highly vulnerable to massive storms that can devastate infrastructure and crimp their most dependent industries, such as tourism. A large number of countries around the Equator also have less diverse economies and rely more on manual labor for their goods. The extreme heat may have devastating impacts on the productivity of these countries’ labor force. Sub-Saharan Africa has a number of high-income, service-driven African countries. Botswana (at the tip) and South Africa (at the bottom), respectively, with 19% and 0.0% GDP exposure. While low-income countries such Ethiopia and Burkina Faso rely on industry and agriculture more, they have 93% GDP and 99% exposure.

Another element of the study assessed how well each country is prepared to respond to climate change. It used a rating system that ranged between 1 (most ready), to 6 (least prepared). Although this score does not affect the GDP risk assessment it can be used to indicate how well prepared each country is to deal with those risks.

When TIME plotted this readiness assessment based on country latitude, the trends—particularly at the extreme ends of the readiness scale—were even more stark than GDP exposure. The equator is the only place where the most developed nation-state Singapore has the highest level of readiness. Conversely, most countries with poor readiness scores lie within 20 degrees of their equator.

Taken together, the charts indicate that countries in northern and southern latitudes are more likely to have resources to prepare the best for climate effects—even though their economies are the least at risk. This is because these nations, particularly those on the European continent—have diversified and service-based economies that can take Mother Nature’s punches. Their wealth is also higher and they are technologically more advanced which gives them the ability to direct resources toward climate adaptation.

While S&P Global didn’t quantify GDP losses on a country level due to uncertainty surrounding the reliability of data at that level, it did calculate an estimate for global regions and the world. The study found that 4 percent of the global economy could become affected by climate change effects by 2050. This assumes that all countries continue to fulfill their existing climate change commitments. Marion Amiot is one of the researchers of this study. Although it may seem small, it could be much worse than the global decline of 3.4% in GDP that COVID-19 caused in 2020.

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