Poorest countries at greatest risk of losses and damage from climate change

Press release, 25 August 2022
Countries with lower Gross Domestic Product per head are at greater risk due to different factors including their institutions, levels of poverty, prevalence of disease and gender equality.

Countries with lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head are at greater risk of suffering losses and damage as a result of climate change, according to new research from IIED. 

The analysis published in 'Harnessing Nationally Determined Contributions to tackle loss and damage in least developed countries' was carried out for 173 countries. It looked at a range of different factors affecting their vulnerability including their institutions, levels of poverty, prevalence of disease, gender equality, natural hazards and the state of their infrastructure. 

While all 37 developed countries analysed had relatively high GDP per capita and low risk of loss and damage, the inverse was true for the 46 least developed countries (LDCs). The most at-risk country was Burundi, followed by Somalia and Mozambique, while the least at risk were Luxembourg, Switzerland and Ireland.

Civil society groups and representatives from vulnerable countries are fighting to get loss and damage – the impacts of climate change that are so severe humans cannot adapt to them – on the agenda for the next round of international climate negotiations in Egypt in November.

Richer countries who are most responsible for carbon emissions but suffer the least from climate change, continue to resist calls for climate finance commitment from those living on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a senior researcher for IIED, said: “The impacts of climate change are being felt all over the world with the UK suffering from wildfires and stifling heat just like India, Germany experiencing flooding just like South Sudan. But while countries with developed economies have the means to reduce their risk, those with the smallest economies do not and are at risk of losing of lives, land and livelihoods and facing catastrophic damage.

“The international community needs to acknowledge this inequality and make sure loss and damage is firmly on the agenda for climate talks if justice is to be done.”

Among 69 countries listed as low risk, 37 were developed countries and 32 were developing countries. None of the least developed countries figured in this category. Forty-four countries fell under the high risk category, with 38 of them least developed countries and only six developing countries. None of the developed countries were listed in this category. 

The research also found that just ten of the 46 LDCs explicitly mentioned the losses and damage they are suffering due to climate change and the risk of further such events in their climate action plans to tackle the crisis, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

All ten that do spell it out had added loss and damage to their plans in the wake of a catastrophic climate event, for example flooding in Laos in 2021 that affected more than three quarters of a million people, or Hurricane Laura that killed 31 people in Haiti in 2020. 

Bharadwaj said: “The least developed countries can’t afford to wait for losses and damage to occur when our analysis shows they are at huge risk. This group of countries, as well as others that are most vulnerable to climate change, could present the issue more effectively to build a stronger case for support and action required from the international community to address it.
 
“The LDCs could more effectively lobby for greater assistance on loss and damage by detailing its scale and nature in the plans they submit to the UN.”

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For more information or to request an interview, contact Sarah Grainger: +44 7503 643332 or sarah.grainger@iied.org