'Conflict worsens climate change ills'

Mourners attending the funeral of a Kurdish fighter in Syria's north-eastern Hasakeh province on Nov 11.
Mourners attending the funeral of a Kurdish fighter in Syria's north-eastern Hasakeh province on Nov 11.PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA • Syria, Libya and Yemen are among the countries whose ability to withstand climate change shocks and stresses has deteriorated the most in the past five years, suggesting conflict makes people more vulnerable to climate impacts.

The University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), released on Tuesday, uses 46 indicators to measure climate change risks to 180 countries and how ready they are to accept investment that could help them cope with more extreme weather and rising seas.

The main contributing factors to the falling scores of the three fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa, riven by armed conflict, are increases in political instability, violence, corruption and poor rule of law, according to the index.

"Even without climate change, you're going to see that countries that have done a poor job on their governance or economic systems are a source of refugees, (and) because of conflict, they haven't been able to serve their people, and things are deteriorating there in all different sectors," said Ms Joyce Coffee, ND-GAIN's managing director.

But adding vulnerability to climate change - which affects food and water security, and less directly health and sanitation - appears to indicate "where the real flash points are", she said.

In the same period, several countries made marked progress in their ability to cope with climate change, the annual index showed.

They are Malaysia, Albania, the Solomon Islands, Guinea, Mongolia, Rwanda, Poland, Russia, the Philippines, Georgia, Laos and the Ivory Coast.

The researchers attributed their success to economic gains and development improvements such as boosting access to reliable drinking water and sanitation, strengthening agriculture, and lowering slum populations and child malnutrition.

The ND-GAIN findings imply that investments in climate change adaptation could pay dividends for a country's stability and development, and vice versa, the researchers added.

Issued ahead of the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Paris, which is set to agree on a new deal to curb climate change, the index is meant to help leaders prioritise investments to help countries adapt better, and ensure the most vulnerable are not forgotten, Ms Coffee said.

To adapt to climate change, developing countries say they need much more financial assistance - and will be pushing hard for that at the Paris conference.

Climate adaptation includes measures such as constructing cyclone shelters, raising up homes and building embankments to protect against floods, and putting in place early warning systems.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline ''Conflict worsens climate change ills''. Print Edition | Subscribe