Island Nations at Great Risk from Climate Change

With the uptick in violent and destructive hurricanes and typhoons, many small island nations across the world have experienced devastating damage and hundreds of deaths. That has led to an increase in challenges to address the impact of climate change.

2017's hurricane season has been nothing short of record breaking in many facets. There have been 17 named storms, ten of which reached hurricane status. Of those, six reached the major hurricane plateau (category 3, 4 or 5). This hurricanes season is tied for the fifth-most active season ever. Additionally, it has featured both the highest total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) and the highest number of major hurricanes since 2005. 

The hurricane season overall has exacted a serious toll on many island nations throughout the Caribbean like Cuba, Anguilla, Guadeloupe, Antigua, and Barbuda. This is where the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative comes into play. 

"We rank 181 countries on a suite of indicators that attempt to capture how vulnerable countries are to climate driver stress and disasters, and how ready they are to accept adaptation resources," says Pat Regan, the Associate Director of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative.

With sea level rises continuing, and with intense storms inevitable down the road, island nations and coastal communities will continue to become increasingly vulnerable; something the index will show as storms affect various nations.

"They were really hammered by very intense storms. And if you take Puerto Rico -- and it's the one that's mostly in the news -- but if you took Barbados you would mostly find the same thing," Regan says. 

For example, if a large hurricane were to severely damage Jamaica, it would likely rise on the vulnerability ranking. However, Jamaica is an example of a country that has enhanced its adaptive capacity with improvements in sanitation facilities and access to reliable drinking water. As a result, Jamaica now fares considerably better than the global average level of vulnerability. 

It's not only the Atlantic Basin, either. In fact, eight islands in the Pacific Ocean have been completely swallowed by the water due to sea level rises (about 3 millimeters per year, on average). Multiple other islands have been partially submerged by sea level rises, and that trend will only continue. Down the road, other island nations across the world -- as well as coastal communities -- could see significant effects from the ever-strengthening tropical systems and increases in sea level. 

And it's this index that Notre Dame is hoping can help island nations prepare for a potential climate disaster.

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