WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan were the countries hit hardest by extreme weather in 2012, according to a global climate risk index released on Tuesday.
Haiti’s losses came from Hurricane Sandy, which swept across the island before striking the United States in October 2012, while the Philippines struggled with Typhoon Bopha in December. Pakistan, in turn, was hit by a third straight year of monsoon-related flooding.
Developing nations dominate the index, produced by Germanwatch, a research and advocacy group that works on sustainable development and global equity issues. But wealthy nations are also edging up the rankings.
The United States came 12th among the most climate-affected countries in 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, as well as widespread drought, wildfires and record tornadoes.
Russia and Serbia ranked ninth and sixth respectively, after being affected by heavy flooding. For Russia, the floods came just two years after parts of the country were devastated by fires and record temperatures.
“The Russian Federation is on a backburner in terms of climate policy, particularly international climate policy,” said Muhammad Irfan Tariq, an official with Pakistan’s climate change ministry, speaking at the index's launch at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw. Russia may need to reconsider its stance, “based on its own vulnerabilities”, he said.
Irfan Tariq said Pakistan lost $15 billion to three years of flooding, including unprecedented monsoon floods in 2010 described by the U.N. Secretary General as a “slow moving tsunami”.
The country estimates its climate adaptation needs at $8 billion to $14 billion a year, which “represents a huge burden for a developing country like us”, Irfan Tariq said.
The Germanwatch index also looks at the countries most affected by extreme weather over the last 20 years. In that listing, Honduras ranked first, followed by Myanmar, Haiti, Nicaragua and Bangladesh.
The Philippines - where 10,000 people are believed to have died in Super Typhoon Haiyan this week - ranked seventh, though it is likely to move up the long-term ranking next year after a string of damaging typhoons.
Altogether, 530,000 people died from 15,000 extreme weather events over the last two decades, according to the index. Financial losses from those storms, floods, droughts and other events were estimated at $2.5 trillion.
The index ranks countries according to the number of deaths, deaths per capital, financial losses and losses according to gross domestic product (GDP). The authors note that the ranking is not an entirely accurate portrait of climate vulnerability, in part because slow-onset risks such as glacier melting and sea-level rise are not included.
But it nonetheless “tells a strong story especially in combination with increasing evidence of the fingerprint of climate change”, said Sönke Kreft, Germanwatch’s team leader for international climate policy and a co-author of the report, which is updated annually.
The index may add pressure to efforts at the Warsaw talks to create a mechanism to deal with “loss and damage” from climate change. Negotiators agreed in Doha last year to establish such a mechanism or “institutional arrangements” to help the most vulnerable countries deal with losses that cannot be avoided through adaptation to climate shifts.
Those impacts - besides financial costs and loss of life - could include things like the disappearance of national homelands for low-lying island states vulnerable to sea-level rise.
Kelly Dent, a spokesman for Oxfam, said the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines showed how seriously a means of dealing with growing losses from extreme weather is needed.
“What happened in the Philippines is beyond adaptation,” she said. “This is loss and damage on an unprecedented scale.”
But securing climate finance to pay for adaptation in climate-vulnerable countries is also key, she said, pointing to the need for things like effective early warning systems for storms.
“Nothing brings into focus why finance is so important” as the Philippines disaster, she said. “We need money on the table. It needs to be real. It cannot be murky dollars, money taken from here and there, (or) loans that need to be repaid by poor countries.”
Progress on scaling up climate finance toward a promised $100 billion by 2020 needs to happen at Warsaw, she said, and “the majority of that money needs to go toward adaptation”.