December 07, 2005,
MontrealA curious thing is happening at this year's annual United Nations conference on climate change. The nasty anti-Americanism on display in years past is largely absent. To the contrary, there's a seriousness of purpose and an acknowledgement of difficult realities that's unprecedented.
To give just a small example, one of the big topics of discussion to have emerged this year is something called "adaptive capacity." That's a fancy way of saying that some countries are better equipped and able to respond to both natural and manmade changes in climate.
At this conference, demands for unrealistic and economically harmful cuts in greenhouse gases, such as those outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, have been blunted. Instead, consideration is being given among delegates, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), bureaucrats, and politicians to bolstering adaptive capacity.
The World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, released a paper on adaptive capacity that is being discussed here. The paper's researchers created a ranking system of countries, placing them on an "adaptive capacity index." The WHO chose several variables in determining where the countries would rank, including criteria such as whether or not a nation has universal health insurance, how robust its economy is and how much access to information it enjoys.
In the paper, the researchers published the rankings of 19 select (mostly European) countries. On this list of countries, Luxembourg was ranked as having the highest capacity for adapting to changes in climate, while Albania was last.
Going down the list, I wondered just how much a country's adaptive capacity was a proxy measurement for other critical factors in a nation's success, such as its level of freedom or whether or not it enjoys good governance.
To find out, I cross-referenced the countries' adaptive capacity ranking with their rankings in two other well-known indices: the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom and Transparency International's Corruption Index, a measure of good governance. I also combined the freedom and good governance rankings to establish a crude "total" freedom/good governance score. A low total score means a country is, relatively speaking, free and well governed. A high score means it is relatively unfree and badly governed.
The results, charted below, are striking.
Adaptive Capacity Heritage Transparency Total
11. Poland (41) (70) 111
The top-ten ranked countries on the select adaptive capacity index starting with Luxembourg and ending with Lithuania all had total freedom/good governance scores well below 100. The remaining countries starting with Poland and ending with Albania typically had very high freedom/good-governance scores, with some over 200.
In other words, freedom and good governance, beyond being desirable in their own right, arguably contribute to a nation's ability to adapt to climate change. As such, any strategy to tackle vulnerability to climate change should emphasize expanding freedom and fighting corruption.
It's no secret that the United Nations has struggled with corruption lately. And its critics maintain, not without evidence, that it is at best a fair-weather friend of freedom. But perhaps its sincere concerns about combating the threats raised by global warming will prompt it to push harder to expand freedom and promote good governance and transparency around the world.
Nick Schulz is editor of TechCentralStation.com.