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Climate change to have greatest impact on those least responsible: study

A spectator watches a climate-change-related projection at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December.

Miguel Villagran/Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Climate change will have the greatest effect on those least responsible for causing the problem, a new study suggests.

Researchers at McGill University found what many have long-suspected - countries that produce the least carbon dioxide emissions per-capita also tend to be more vulnerable to climate change.

"Based on our ecological models, we see that the potential impact of climate change will be the greatest in countries that have contributed very little," lead researcher and PhD candidate Jason Samson said in an interview.

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Similar models have been used to study how plants and animals respond to climate change, but Mr. Samson applied the tools to study the impact on humans.

He calls it the first global index to predict the effects of climate change on humans.

According to the study, published by the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, people living in hot, low-latitude countries are the most likely to feel the effects over the next several decades.

Parts of South America, Central America, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and much of Africa will be particularly hard-hit, the research suggests.

It's predicted that much of Canada, along with the northern United States, northern Europe and central Asia, will feel the effects to a lesser degree.

That doesn't mean Canada and other wealthy countries won't feel the effects of climate change. They will just be better equipped to deal with them, Mr. Samson said.

"They will still see impacts, for instance on agriculture," he said.

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Mr. Samson said poor countries like Somalia, which are heavily dependent on climate and already struggle to grow food because of hot conditions, will have the most difficulty sustaining a growing population with an increase in temperature.

It's also clear that Somalia is not a big contributor of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, he said.

For the research, Mr. Samson combined climate change data with census data covering close to 97 per cent of the world's population to predict changes in local populations for 2050.

The new ecological model will make it possible to more accurately predict and map out the effects of climate change in specific regions across the globe, Mr. Samson said.

While the model doesn't offer predictions at the level of a small town or even a province, Mr. Samson said it offers a broad picture that can be useful when determining policy.

"It provides a very clear map for decision makers," he said.

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The data could be useful for decision makers in the ongoing international negotiations around climate change, Mr. Samson said.

Those who have argued climate change will have harmful effects on countries that contribute little in greenhouse gases now have more evidence to back it up, he said.

"That disparity was discussed, but it was always in a qualitative manner because there was no such index of vulnerability," he said.

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