Who's Most at Risk from Climate Change?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 5:40 PM PST

The answer, by region: the eastern US in North America; China, Bangladesh and Myanmar in Asia; western Sahel and southwestern nations in Africa; Brazil in South America; Russia, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean nations, including France, Italy and Spain, in Europe. This according to a new study from Purdue University and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy that goes beyond the physical aspects of climate change—changes in temperature, sea-level, and precipitation—to examine socioeconomic side-effects worldwide. The study forecasts that the merger of climatic and socioeconomic variables will trigger lopsided responses.

"Patterns emerge that you wouldn't recognize from just looking at either climatic or socioeconomic conditions," [said Noah Diffenbaugh, lead author]. "For example, China has a relatively moderate expected climate change. However, when you combine that with the fact that it has the second largest economy in the world, a substantial poverty rate and a large population, it creates one of the largest combined exposures on the planet. We see similar effects in other parts of the world, including India and the United States, which also have relatively moderate expected climate change. So it's where the socioeconomic and climatic variables intersect that is the key."

The research will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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