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Poorest, Most Vulnerable Countries Face Worst Impacts if Warming Pushes Past 1.5° to 2.0°C

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The world’s poorest nations will see the biggest local climatic shifts at the margin between 1.5° and 2.0°C average global warming, even though they often have the least capacity to adapt to those impacts, according to a study published late last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

While the vast majority of the world’s population will feel the effects of heat waves, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and other climate effects as the atmosphere warms, poor countries will be hardest hit, researchers Dr. Andrew King and Luke Harrington explain in a guest post for Carbon Brief.

The weather we experience every day is a combination of the long-term trend of climate change—the ‘signal’—and the short-term fluctuations of natural variability—the ‘noise’,” they explain. Separating those effects shows that, “in general, missing the 1.5°C limit and reaching 2,0°C of warming will mean a more palpable change in local temperatures in the tropics than at higher latitudes.

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Past research has shown that poorer regions of the world have seen climate impacts first and worst. King and Harrington projected into the future by comparing their signal-to-noise ratio with 2010 GDP data for different parts of the world, to “investigate the relationship between local climate change and current wealth patterns,” they write.

As the less economically developed areas of the world tend to be in the tropics and the more developed economies are in the higher latitudes, we see a strong inverse relationship,” they note. “This mean, in general, the wealthiest will experience less perceptible climate change than the poorest.

By projecting a set of future scenarios called “shared socioeconomic pathways” to mid- century, they spotted severe consequences for developing countries as average global warming pushes past the 1.5°C threshold. “This result is remarkably clear given we are only examining a half-a-degree difference in global temperature,” they note. “Low-income countries are consistently the ones which will experience the largest perceptible shifts in local climate beyond the 1.5C limit. And these countries often have a limited capacity to adapt to a changing climate.