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Insights into Editorial: Wide fault lines within the Global Climate Risk Index




The address by Barbados Prime Minister at the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties, or COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, attracted global attention with her remark that failure to provide critical adaptation finance as well as measuring the extent of loss caused by climate change with respect to “lives and livelihoods” was immoral.

This has again brought the complexity in measuring climate risk to the forefront.


Definition of Climate Risk and vulnerability:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), under the aegis of the United Nations, defines climate risk as the likelihood of unfavourable impacts occurring as a result of severe climate events interacting with vulnerable environmental, social, economic, political or cultural conditions.

Quantitatively, it is the product of the probability of a climate event occurring and its adverse consequences.


About Global Climate Risk Index:

  1. The international environmental think tank ‘Germanwatch’ released the Global Climate Risk Index 2021. It is published annually.
  2. Germanwatch, based in Bonn and Berlin (Germany), is an independent development and environmental organisation which works for sustainable global development.
  3. The Global Climate Risk Index analyses quantified impacts of extreme weather events, in terms of fatalities and impact of extreme weather events.
  4. The index is based on the data from the Munich Re NatCatSERVICE, which is considered worldwide as one of the most reliable and complete databases on this matter.
  5. The Index aims at contextualising ongoing climate policy debates, especially the International climate negotiations – looking at the near world impacts in 2019 and the past two decades.


Methodology and Interpretation by GCRI:

  1. Recent discussions around climate risk assessment and management have been based on the Global Climate Risk Index” (GCRI), published annually by GermanWatch, a non-profit organisation.
  2. The latest version of the GCRI, published in January 2021, ranked 180 countries based on the impact of extreme weather events and associated socio-economic data from 2000-2019.
  3. According to the publishing agency, the rankings are meant to forewarn countries about the possibility of more frequent and/or severe climate-related events in the future.
  4. This index uses historical data to provide insights on exposure to extreme events. It cannot be used for linear forecasts about future climate impact.
  5. There are deep fault lines in the methodology and interpretation of the country rankings. Recommendations based on this index should be generated with caution.


Fault lines on which GCRI ranks the countries:

  1. First, the GCRI ranks countries based on four key indicators:
    1. Number of deaths; number of deaths per 1,00,000 inhabitants; sum of losses in Purchasing Power Parity (in U.S. dollars); and losses per unit of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
    2. Of these indicators, two are absolute while the other two are relative. However, the GCRI report does not provide a rationale for the selection of these macro indicators.
  2. Second, the index suffers from exclusion errors and selection bias.
    1. Composite indicators are better constructed using micro indicators instead of macro indicators, which measure loss because isolating the effect of the loss of elements on GDP is fraught with errors.
    2. Instead, a number of key micro indicators such as the total number of people injured, loss of livestock, loss of public and private infrastructure, crop loss and others are better candidates for assessing the composite loss resulting from climate change events.
  3. Third, the index accounts for information on weather-related events like storms, floods, temperature extremes and mass movements.
    1. However, it omits geological incidents like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, which may be potentially triggered by climate change and can have economic and humanitarian impact.
  4. Fourth, the ranking under the GCRI is done based on data collected by Munich Re’s NatCatService, which is not validated at the ground-level.
    1. The data gaps particularly with regard to economic losses are based on experience, the prevailing intellectual property of MunichRe and the market value of elements at risk that are at best approximate values of economic losses.


Delays in action and response:

  1. Any discussion on measurement and management of climate risk is incomplete without accounting for issues of uncertainty, scale and delays between action and response to climate change.
  2. Therefore, climate change can at best be managed within a comprehensive risk assessment framework, which uses climate information to better cope with the impact of climate change.
  3. In this context, India’s latest module on the National Disaster Management Information System (NDMIS) captures damages and losses caused by disasters and monitors the targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  4. The NDMIS captures details on parameters like death, injury, affected population by categories as well as economic losses in social and infrastructure sectors due to weather and geological events on a daily basis. The data captured by the NDMIS includes all major climatic events.


The burden of development:

  1. Eight of the 10 countries most affected between 2000 and 2019 were developing countries with low or lower middle income per capita.
  2. Vulnerable people in developing countries suffered most from extreme weather events like storms, floods and heatwaves, whereas the impact of climate change was visible around the globe.
  3. Poorer countries are hit hardest because they are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of a hazard and have the lower coping capacity.


India’s Action plan irrespective of Index rankings:

  1. India’s first climate change assessment report, published in 2020, projected that temperatures would rise 4.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century in a “business as usual” scenario.
  2. The frequency of heatwaves will be up to four times higher, cyclone intensity will increase and sea level will rise by 30 cm (12 inches) if action is not taken, the report said.
  3. Many leave home when there is little work in farming or fishing to find jobs on construction sites or in cotton fields in Maharashtra, Gujarat and New Delhi.
  4. More than 70% of households in the study said droughts were happening significantly more often in the last 5 to 10 years, leading to an increase in so-called distress migration when people feel they have no other option to survive.
  5. We need to plan for the hundreds of millions of people who it is predicted will have to migrate in the coming decades due to climate change.
  6. India’s social protection programmes do not consider extreme weather and were not designed to build climate resilience.
  7. The national rural employment guarantee scheme — which promises 100 days of work per year to every household — does not act as “a viable safety net” due to delays in wage payments and a lack of transparency, the report said.
  8. Besides revamping existing mechanisms, there was a need for pre-emptive action before a disaster strikes.
  9. Making migration safe for people forced to move by climate pressures should involve “anticipatory wage employment” and portability of social protection entitlements.



Deploying effective approaches and principles to foster collaboration among climate risk information users and providers, along with enabling the implementation of effective management actions, will allow India to leapfrog on the targets envisaged in the Sendai Framework.

Proactive and timely need-based adaptation is important. Without it, there will be a huge fiscal burden in the future.

A more collaborative approach towards climate change adaptation is crucial.

Next-generation reforms will promote new business and climate service opportunities across several sectors and thus create a sustainable economy.