Big Data

China's Role in Adaptation?

This infographic in Fast Company got me thinking:  Is China the answer to African resilience? final version use africa

Anyone worried about climate change would be agog at what this map says:  That Africa (including, it looks like, even the African Sahel, based on the arrow) will be China’s breadbasket!  But other maps of Africa, suggest this might be a fantasy ND-GAIN’s data (as well as that of e.g. Maplecroft) suggest that Africa is vulnerable, including and especially in its food sector.


But what if African economic development changed these risk maps?  Then, could we see the sort of hope illustrated in that fantastic Fast Company arrow?

GAIN identifies two types of countries vulnerable to climate change – those ready for investment (due to their economic, social and governance perspectives) and those that are not.  My audience often asks me, how will those countries unready for adaptation investments become less vulnerable?  China, seemingly, is providing that answer.

The Economist reported on the Centre for China & Globalization and National Bureau of Statistics numbers, which showed that China’s direct investment flows are edging toward a slight majority of outflows this year, with around $130B in outflows and about $120B in inflows projected, and Africa is one recipient of that outbound investment. The story we know well is that state-owned enterprises are searching for resources in Africa.  And mining is a part of this story.   But private Chinese firms also are pioneering in the African marketplace, as Peter Orzag explains in Bloomberg.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that China will extend over $12B in aid to Africa in future years.

Earlier this month, as China’s leader wrapped up a premier tour of strong handshakes and lavish gift-giving around the Pacific following on APEC, I grew hopeful that China turns from a BRIC into a brick-builder that helps African countries and other emerging economies continue to build the foundation of their resiliency.

Adaptation Potential: Africa's Hope and Promise

Adaptation Potential: Africa’s Hope and Promise Hope for building communities resilient to climate change around the world emerges from the unlikeliest of places—Africa. Shortly after release of the ND-GAIN 2014 Index, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, Calestous Juma, maintained that rankings alone fail to account for novel technological opportunities that communities not yet locked into conventional frameworks may readily adopt.

Focusing only on the rankings, Juma added in a CNN opinion editorial, risks sowing “despair among the poor and complacency among the rich.” He believes that developing countries have much cause for hope and that we must not ignore a poor nation’s creativity in the fight against climate change.

As evidence of Africa’s potential for generating responses to issues unique in our time, Juma cited the successful Sahalian drought response borne out of local collaboration as well as the mobile money-transfer initiative in Kenya. Most striking is the work of women engineers in controlling traffic through the use of robot technology in the CRD, a country ranked 5th from rock bottom of 178 countries on the ND-GAIN Index.

This hope and promise are reflected in ND-GAIN’s Readiness Matrix. Nestled in Africa are many of the world’s most vulnerable and least-prepared countries, but they each have made substantial progress in readiness to accept adaptation investment. These countries include Guinea, Laos, Liberia, Sao Tome & Principe, Zimbabwe and, most remarkably, Rwanda, which --has progressed entirely out of the red zone. The message is clear: the time is ripe for adaptation investment. In the coming years, African countries likely will emerge as leaders in the climate adaptation scene as investment continues to grow.


In particular, alternative energy holds much promise in Africa. Although many parts of the continent receive abundant insolation – the amount of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area during a given time – and constant winds, alternative energy investment and development still are in their infancy. Limited information access and poor local training further hinder technological leaps, contends Juma.

MozambiqueThe team in Mozambique.

Collaborations between foreign and local agencies can bridge this gap. For instance, ND-GAIN, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) and the Universidade Católica de Moçambique (UCM) teamed up to assess the impacts of early-warning systems for climate-related disasters in Mozambique. They evaluated the impacts of Community-based Disaster Management Committees (CLGRCs) and early-warning systems to show what and how interventions lead to increased climate resilience.

Moving forward, it is crucial that we understand the extent of Africa’s adaptation potential and also facilitate its adaptation efforts.  Africa likely will hold solutions to the 21st century’s most pressing problems.

Blog compiled with help from Sophia Chau, Intern, ND-GAIN 

Unsung Heroes – Government Statisticians Who Need the Space to Be Honest

At a Social Capital Markets SOCAP 2014 panel in San Francisco in Fall 2014 about Resilience Investing Informed by Global Data I had the pleasure of presenting with Dr. Mirza Jahani, the CEO of the Aga Khan Development Network’s U.S. foundation.  The panel focused on data and the particular issue dealt with how to spend less money gathering data and more money using it to achieve better outcomes. SOCAP-14-Logo-1Dr. Jahani’s response – consider government statisticians – made me realize we may be looking at the solution right under the world’s green eye shade. Government statistics bureaus around the world offer treasure troves of both fine statistician and copious amounts of data (much of it on paper – the topic of a future post). These number crunchers know the issues confronting their countries intimately, both quantitatively and qualitatively, from their life experience and work. But they lack the resources to make those data transparent.

As many know, I’m a big proponent of free and open-source data.  But, perhaps I need to shift my emphasis. What if these government statisticians could say what actually was happening in their respective countries and share the data they have gathered directly and without intervention (regardless of the inference the world would draw from it)?    The prevailing belief is that many government statistics are suspect, because some countries lack capacity to gather or verify data and/or countries want to appear better (or sometimes worse) than they are for political or investment purposes.

If they possessed the clout so they could be honest with government data, we users could even say, “This data isn’t bad; let’s use it.” This would save implementers in every sector valuable time and money they can apply to their work on the ground.

From Dhaka Bangladesh to Kathmandu Nepal, from Chicago, USA to Aberdeen, UK, cities have opened up their data to the world, and even inspired titles for appointed posts. Consider “Chief Innovation Officer.” As a result, these enlightened governments gain the reward of better decisions made from better data and also reap a reputational boost for their transparency from citizens, other cities, and businesses and other institutions.

More governments should take a page from this book on how to manage a reputable statistics bureau. They then would empower their statisticians and data miners to give the world their most powerful currency: data.

Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: From Recognition to Action

This article originally appeared in Triple Pundit

Editor’s note: This is the first post in an ongoing biweekly series on the climate adaptation gap. Stay tuned for future installments here on TriplePundit!

Joyce Coffee, Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index Managing Director, opens last year's ND-GAIN Annual Meeting.Joyce Coffee, Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index Managing Director, opens last year’s ND-GAIN Annual Meeting. 

By Joyce Coffee

Recent data indicate that a gap exists between corporations understanding the big-picture risks of climate change and their actions to address those risks to shore up their bottom line.

MIT’s Sloan Management Review published results of the annual sustainability survey they conduct withBCG (aka The Boston Consulting Group). In Harvard Business Review‘s synthesis, they note: “The vast majority of respondents in a new Sloan and BCG survey say climate change isn’t a significant issue … And of the 27 percent that acknowledge climate change is a risk to their businesses, only 9 percent say their companies are prepared for the risk.”

In contrast to this data, another corporate survey—the annual World Economic Forum Global Risk Report–says, this year, four out of the top 10 global risks derived from the World Economic Forum’s global risk perception survey relate to climate disruption:

  • Water Crisis
  • Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
  • Greater Incidence of Extreme Weather Events
  • Food Crisis

These risks share space with other risks such as high unemployment, fiscal crisis and political and social instability.

As the report starts: “To manage global risks effectively and build resilience to their impacts, better efforts are needed to understand, measure and foresee the evolution of interdependencies between risks, supplementing traditional risk-management tools with new concepts designed for uncertain environments.”

The takeaway from WEF’s report: It’s up to all of us to build and refine the proper measurement tools to ensure we are creating business opportunities that offer rewards for humanity in this era of climate risk. A goal will be to pair other notable trends about sustainability progress to lead the way.

So, based on the WEF numbers, if corporations see a risk, but, based on the MIT numbers, they do nothing about it, that gap suggests that businesses are not yet sure how to manage the risk that a changing climate brings to their value chains.

Since climate adaptation relates to the direct impacts on our most important assets—our employees, our customers, our communities and our families–those who advise corporations possess a great opportunity to demonstrate to their clients the significant collateral benefits of a five-step plan of adaptation action. The five steps are outlined briefly here, and will be rolled out in-depth throughout a six-part, biweekly series on Triple Pundit.

  1. Examine the relative risks of geographies in supply chains. Where are your most vulnerable communities and supply chains? What resilience can be built to protect these people and assets?
  2. Identify relevant vulnerabilities in geographies where you maintain significant human and capital assets. Tools like ND Global Adaptation Index can help, plotting countries on a matrix and digging into specific country profiles. When assessing their global risks, corporate leaders can also employ other indices to inform their thinking—from Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, to the major credit-rating agencies’ foreign-currency ratings, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.
  3. Review your business-continuity plans based upon these vulnerabilities and risks, perhaps including an economic risk analysis for the most likely issues. If you are just beginning this assessment, draft up a list of questions based on research surrounding steps one and two. Use this information to inform your business-continuity plan.
  4. List strategies that could be used to prepare your most vulnerable assets. What investment is available and what processes must be taken to secure these assets?
  5. Create a short and medium-term plan that does three things: 1) Starts with adaptive actions you already are taking as part of your business as usual. 2) Sets priorities of adaptations with collateral benefits; e.g., mitigating greenhouse gas emissions (onsite stormwater management), improving employee morale (work from home options) or buoying your reputation (shoring up public health systems in one of your supplier hubs). 3) And, very importantly, includes financials for avoided risks.

Many cities, including TorontoNew York and London publish their adaptation plans, and they are worth a look for inspiration.

Read more in the Climate Adaptation Gap series:

  1. Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: From Recognition to Action
  2. Bridging the Climate Adaptation Gap: Relative Risks of Geographies in Supply Chains
  3. The Climate Adaptation Gap: How to Create a Climate Adaptation Plan

Joyce Coffee is managing director of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN). Coffee, who is based in Chicago, serves as the executive lead for related resiliency research, outreach and execution. Stay tuned for the next post in “The Climate Adaptation Gap” series on Tuesday, May 20. The series will deep-dive into the complicated look at supply chain risk assessment. Next up: “Relative Risks of Geographies in Supply Chains”

Measuring Country Resilience

For the past several months, my colleagues and I have heard a lot more about both adaptation and resilience*, especially in discussions with ND-GAIN’s corporate users.  This guest blog, by ND Global Adaptation Index's Chen Chen, offers insights into resiliency particularly in the Association of South East Asian Nations. To measure countries’ resilience to rebound from adverse impacts of climate change, ND-GAIN focuses on the adaptive capacities of five sectors that provide communities with life-supporting assets and social services:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Public health
  • Ecosystem service
  • Human habitat.

Chosen indicators reflect capacities that make social systems persist in a changing climate, based on historical data that scores countries’ performance in each of the five sectors. For instance, in the food sector, countries with a high rate of child malnutrition will possess low resiliency if climate-induced events strike the food-production system. In the ecosystem service system, countries’ engagement in international environmental conventions, such as the International Plant Protection Convention, shows a political willingness to commit to sustainable development and a technical capacity to take actions to ensure the proper functioning of ecosystems. Table 1 illustrates the set of indicators ND-GAIN uses to measure resiliency within these sectors:

Table 1 Indicators of Adaptive Capacity Measuring Resiliency to Climate Change







ND-GAIN analysis over the last 17 years finds that when these indicators are analyzed for 177 countries, lower-income countries will require a century to reach the level of resiliency of OECD (generally upper-income) countries.

ND-GAIN data also helps examine regional resiliency.  For instance, ASEAN has been improving its resiliency to climate change over time from 1995 to 2012. In particular, it has made rapid progress in enhancing resiliency in water and health sectors by strengthening capacities to provide quality services in these areas. See Figure 1.

Standardized scores over time (0 indicates lowest resiliency and 1 indicates highest) for resiliency sectors in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Each country’s performance contributes to the trend of increasing resiliency. As illustrated in Figure 2 and considering the health sector, Singapore posts the highest resiliency and continues that strength, while Cambodia and Laos have show more improvement, relatively. In particular, Cambodia displays the highest rate of progress among nine ASEAN countries, contributing greatly to ASEAN’s overall health-sector resiliency improvement. Still, Cambodia and Laos, perhaps, will  require decades at current rates to reach to the current level of resiliency in Singapore.







By analyzing our data to better understand resilience, ND-GAIN helps decision makers inform their supply chain, capital asset, community engagement and policy decisions with the future of lower-income countries in mind.

*Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties (Oxford Dictionary)



Presidential advisors Podesta & Holdren: Consider how we’re unleashing data power on climate change

The Internet buzzes with the ambitious plan* by White House advisors John Podesta and John Holdren to create easy-to-use tools to prepare people to be more resilient to climate change.  But, hey, we’re already doing this for the world – employing half-a-million data points in an interactive assessment of 177 countries that uses this framework: And our data, methodology and framework are free and available for anyone to see and use.


Here’s an ingredient in our not-so-secret sauce: We include readiness. We believe decision makers need to know what’s occurring in the government, economic and social sectors to make the vulnerability information truly actionable.  Because corporate decision makers don’t look at climate change in isolation, we include climate and other variables in our set of vulnerability indicators.  Human health, human habitat, water, food, ecosystems and infrastructure variables round out our description.


We aim to keep it simple and easy to use, drawing the user in initially with a relative rank of geographies.


Then, we provide detailed information about each geography, including the variables most at risk:

Consider these ways this framework can raise awareness and inform decision-making by turning climate risk into opportunity for action.

Supply chain risk: Plot the major assets in your value chain on a matrix of relative vulnerability and readiness, and discover your major risks and opportunities for investment:

Investment decisions: Do you possess a product that helps increase resiliency? How about infrastructure, pharmaceutical or building technologies? Compare several geographies to one another to determine relative areas of risk – energy sensitivity for one, health-care workers per capita for another.

Setting development priorities: Exploring opportunities to expand your operations in a new location?  What variables matter most?  Roadway infrastructure, an educated workforce?  Data here, all in one place, will inform your next steps.

Good luck with this super important effort, Messrs. Podesta and Holdren.

We commend you for your work to unleash the power of data on climate change adaptation and resiliency.

Read about our methodology here, and contact us for more info!