Sustainable Energy

Scared by climate change? Maybe you should head north

What does Ireland share in common with the Nordic countries of Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland? Well, apart from being in Europe, these countries share the accolade of being the least vulnerable to climate change in the world, according to a new report from Verisk Maplecroft.

The risk consultancy ranked Norway, followed by Ireland, as the least vulnerable, judged by the country's exposure to climate change and extreme weather events, coupled with their capability to adapt to, and take advantage of any changes.

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"Although Ireland is projected to experience an increase in mean annual temperature of about 1 degrees Celsius by 2050, changes in annual rainfall amounts are expected to be fairly minimal when averaged across the country as a whole," Richard Hewston, principal environmental analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC on Friday.

"Ireland's economic reliance on climate-sensitive sectors (e.g. agriculture) is less than many European countries, with less than 2 percent of the country's GDP (gross domestic product) derived from agriculture. This offers a measure of resilience to the economy, effectively insulating it from climate shocks," he later added.

Ireland and the Nordics trumped the U.K. at no. 17 and the U.S., which was down at no. 39. The nearby Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also scored highly, coming in at no. 5, no. 9 and no. 27 respectively.

10 countries least vulnerable to climate change:

  1. Norway
  2. Ireland
  3. Iceland
  4. Sweden
  5. Finland
  6. Estonia
  7. Barbados
  8. Denmark
  9. Latvia
  10. St. Lucia

Some of the Caribbean nations also performed well, with Barbados at no.7 and St. Lucia in tenth place.

"The magnitude of projected changes in annual temperature and rainfall over Barbados and St. Lucia are less than more northern Caribbean nations and indeed many Central American countries. The main hurricane track lies to the north of St. Lucia, meaning any changes in the frequency and/or intensity of tropical cyclone systems may be more keenly felt in more northern Caribbean nations," Hewston told CNBC.

The topic of climate change is in focus ahead of the COP21 conference in Paris this month, viewed by some as the last chance to strike a global agreement on combating the issue.

It is hoped that countries will agree to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but France and the U.S. have already clashed as to whether or not the agreement should be legally binding.

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The move towards low-carbon technologies would need financing and could have major repercussions for carbon-intensive sectors such as power generation and coal mining.

"Many countries have made commitments to date, creating optimism about the chances for an agreement. However, as many commentators have noted, the sum of these commitments doesn't bring down carbon emissions enough to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels," Standard & Poor's credit analyst, Michael Wilkins, said in a report on COP21 on Friday.

As a region, North America was viewed as safer than Europe by Verisk Maplecroft, with Africa the most vulnerable. African countries dominated its list of countries at "extreme risk" of climate change, with the impoverished, semi-desert country of Chad judged the most vulnerable of all.

5 countries most vulnerable to climate change:

  1. Chad
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Niger
  4. Haiti
  5. Central African Republic

"Shifting climate patterns in Western Africa are already posing water and food security challenges in this region. Research suggests that climate change has contributed to roughly half of the 90 percent reduction in the size of Lake Chad since the 1960s. The reduced availability of freshwater has contributed to water and food insecurity, migration and conflict in Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, all of which border the lake," Hewston told CNBC.

The World Bank warned on Sunday that climate change could push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next 15 years, with populaces in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia seen most affected. That's because of the importance of agriculture to these economies, which is the industry most vulnerable to weather impacts.

The World Bank forecasts that by 2030, crop yield losses could push food prices 12 percent higher on average in sub-Saharan Africa, placing a heavy strain on poor households. In addition, global warming of 2-3 degrees Celsius could increase the number of people at risk of malaria and diarrhea, as well as worsen water scarcity, it said.

— By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow her on Twitter @KatyBarnato.