Editorial Feature

Which Countries Are More Vulnerable to Climate Change?

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Even though developed and developing countries around the world are experiencing significant impacts as a result of climate change, their vulnerability to these effects varies greatly.


A nation’s vulnerability to climate change can be described as the degree to which it is at risk of being negatively impacted by climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change vulnerability can be further explored as a function of the nation’s exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity to the effects of climate change.

Country-Level Factors

Several earlier studies have investigated the different social, economic and environmental factors that cause certain nations to be at a greater risk of climate change as compared to others. For example, it has been determined that developed nations with a higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and foreign direct investment (FDI) release higher carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and therefore contribute more to climate change. Although these nations are climate change producers, they are often less vulnerable to the consequences of climate change as compared to developing nations that may not have contributed much to the problem in the first place.

In addition to economic factors, several studies have also found that cultural factors can have a significant impact on whether a nation chooses to adopt sustainable practices against climate change. A 2017 study, for example, proposed that an “Eco-Islam” phenomenon, which connects Islamic teachings to environmental ethics, could enhance the environmental stewardship of Arab countries. This work was critical in addressing the issues that many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Middle East experience as a result of the general lack of legislative frameworks and regulations on climate change that are available in these nations. To this end, SMEs often suffer from a wide range of issues that include a significant depletion and mismanagement of resources.

In the end, researchers of this study found that Eco-Islam teachings successfully communicated the emphasis that Islamic wisdom has historically placed on the environment and all of its constituents to the attention of SMEs, which will hopefully motivate these markets to enforce innovative environmental regulations in the future.

Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability

In an effort to better understand exactly how one nation’s susceptibility to the effects of climate change differs from that of another nation, a joint study conducted by both the University of Houston Clear Lake and the American University in Cairo, Egypt, examined how 73 different countries around the world have made efforts to mitigate climate-change between 1998 and 2013.

In their work, the researchers tested several primary hypotheses, which include the relationship between a nation’s commitment to technology innovation and climate change vulnerability, as well as how a nation’s regulatory protection quality can alter their vulnerability to climate change.

The final hypothesis by these researchers argued that an open trade environment would also reduce their susceptibility to the adverse effects of climate change.

The Impact of Supporting Technology Innovation

Countries that display an evident commitment to innovation development will experience a lower vulnerability to climate change as compared to other countries that dedicate fewer resources to the research and development (R&D) of climate mitigation and adaptation technologies. This hypothesis was confirmed when the group of researchers analyzed the research and development expenses of 73 different nations and correlated this data as a percentage of GDP.

Their results found that the nations with an R&D/GDP that was one standard deviation, or 0.954, greater than the mean experienced vulnerability to climate change that was approximately 1/10 of the standard deviation below the mean. Some of the nations that fell into this category included Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

The Advantages of Regulatory Protection

The hypothesis that nations with a greater level of regulatory protection would be less vulnerable to climate change was proven to be true at the end of this study. For this study, regulatory quality was measured by a nation’s protection over the environment, intellectual property and bureaucracy.

The researchers also confirmed previous notions that not only does a greater level of regulatory quality improve the adoption of sustainable policies, but it also drives technological innovation.


In conclusion, the researchers of this study determined that a nation’s vulnerability to climate change is determined by the availability of market natural resources, as well as whether the given nation had a thorough knowledge on the negative consequences of climate change, as this information has served as the foundation for developing effective response strategies to combat these issues.

Overall, the support and effective application of knowledge on all aspects of climate change, which include prevention and response, prove critical to the battle against climate change.  

References and Further Reading

  • Abdelzaher, D. M., Martynov, A., & Zaher, A. M. A. (2020). Vulnerability to climate change: Are innovative countries in a better position? Research in International Business and Finance 51. DOI: 10/1016/j.ribaf.2019.101098.
  • Abdelzaher, D. M., & Abdelzaher, A. (2017). Beyond Environmental Regulations: Exploring the Potential of “Eco-Islam” in Boosting Environment Ethics Within SMEs in Arab Markets. Journal of Business Ethics 145(2); 357-371. DOI: 10.1007/s10551-015-2833-8.

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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