Sustainable Security Index – Research Note on Climate Change

To mark World Environment Day 2018, this research note pulls together data on the climate change impact of the 170 countries compared in Oxford Research Group’s forthcoming Sustainable Security Index. This aims to give some quantifiable assessment of the impact of policy and behaviour in these countries on climate change, which we recognise as a major driver of current and future human insecurity.

While the Index’s Climate and Environment category spans 10 indicators, this brief analysis looks at a weighted compilation of the five that are likely to have the most significant impact on climate change. These are:

  • Estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, measured as metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO₂e) per 100,000 inhabitants. [42% of total weighting]
  • Quantity of hydrocarbons exported per capita on the basis of estimated MtCO2e produced from burning exported volumes of coal, crude oil and natural gas. [17% of total weighting]
  • Multilateral co-operation on mitigating climate change, based on whether countries have signed up to and ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement. [8% of total weighting]
  • Investment in clean energy, measured via domestic renewable electricity production, A) per capita and B) as a percentage of total electricity production. We control these figures to reduce the weight of power generation from hydroelectric schemes, given the significant environmental impact of such projects relative to solar or wind energy. [25% of total weighting]
  • Provision of funding for climate change adaptation in poorer countries, measured as a % of GDP. [8% of total weighting]

Given the huge differentials in GHG and carbon exports per capita, we’ve used logarithmic scales for these indicators.

Two data clusters of our provisional findings are presented here. Figure 1 provides a breakdown of the ten best-scoring and ten worst-scoring countries in the Sustainable Security Index in terms of impact on climate change.

Prominent among the top ten are four of the five Nordic countries, owing to their moderate GHG emissions, near absence of carbon exports, high investment in (and potential for) clean energy production, and relatively generous funding of climate finance initiatives. The Nordic state missing from the top ten is Norway, which scores 6.41 out of 10. This is because Norway exports a huge volume of hydrocarbons (oil and gas), which significantly depresses its overall score. We rate its renewable electricity production at a rather mediocre 5.35 out of 10, owing to its large dependency on hydroelectric energy sources; this may be somewhat unfair given the likely lower environmental impact of its generally small-scale hydroelectric plants. Even so, Norway comes far above most other oil- and gas-exporting states, not least because it is easily the world’s leading per capita provider of climate finance.

Also featuring in the top ten are several developing countries: Bhutan, Costa Rica, Tajikistan and Kenya. Typical characteristics are low GHG emissions, lack of hydrocarbon exports, significant commitment to renewable energy production and ratification of the Paris Agreement. Predictably, their climate finance scores are uniformly negligible as they are more likely to be net recipients of such funds.

At the bottom of the index, heavy polluters and high-volume oil and gas exporters such as Kuwait, Brunei and Qatar are dominant. Since we are measuring emissions per capita, small population size is an influential factor here. Saudi Arabia and the UAE achieve slightly higher scores overall because of their larger populations and due to having ratified the Paris Agreement. In terms of carbon exports, investment in renewable energy and climate finance, all the bottom ten perform extremely poorly and, in most cases, score zero.

Figure 2 shows scores for the Big Ten world’s largest economies in terms of GDP at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP – i.e. volume rather than $ value of production).

Brazil performs relatively well in terms of its GHG emissions per capita, particularly as we are using estimates that exclude changes in land use like deforestation. While its oil exports are significant, per capita they rank relatively low given Brazil’s large population. Brazil has ratified the Paris Agreement but is not yet rich enough to be a climate finance provider. While Germany out-performs Brazil on most indicators, its GHG emissions per capita are significantly higher. Other countries such as the UK and France perform relatively well, but lag behind on renewable electricity production. The UK pulls ahead of France thanks to its greater commitment to climate financing.

Lowest ranked of the Big Ten, the United States and Russia score as low as 5.20 and 4.20 out of 10, featuring in the bottom 20 of 170 states assessed. To be clear, this is not because they are big states with vast populations and economies; our methodology controls for population and GDP. Both are heavy GHG emitters, and neither is strongly committed to renewable energy sources or climate financing. Russia scores worse overall mostly because of its much larger per capita carbon exports. Unlike any of the other Big Ten, it has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement. Here the United States is in unique territory. While it has declared its withdrawal from the treaty, it is in theory abiding by the four-year-minimum withdrawal period during which it ought to abide by its commitments. We’ve given it an intermediate score equivalent to having signed but not yet ratified; we recognise that this may be generous given the impact and intent of the Trump administration’s withdrawal decision.

In summary, a more sustainable approach to climate security is likely to involve action to: limit GHG emissions; reduce fossil fuel production and exports; work collaboratively with other states and international organisations; develop, operationalise and share renewable energy technologies; and to invest in mitigation measures in the least developed countries. While many states have made some progress in several of these areas, the failure of some of the richest most powerful states to lead by example on climate change greatly undermines the collective endeavour of the rest of the world.


About the Sustainable Security Index

Oxford Research Group’s (ORG) Sustainable Security Index (SSI) is a new product that aims to measure the net impact of each of the world’s states on global security. It is based on more than 50 indicators and sub-indicators that provide quantifiable evidence of each state’s impact on conditions that we believe contribute to greater human security and well-being and thus contribute to sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict. It should be stressed that this is very different from attempting to measure “national security” impact.

Our indicators are grouped into the three main categories, namely (1) Equality & Inclusion, (2) Arms Control & Peacekeeping and (3) Climate & Environment. These are given an equal weighting within the Index, with scores out of ten. The first full Index of 170 states and a comprehensive methodology will be published in autumn 2018.


Data Sources Used


World Resources Institute. (2014). CAIT – Country Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2017). International Energy Statistics – Exports of Dry Natural Gas.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2014). Coal: Imports, exports & distribution.
The World Factbook. (2016). Crude Oil Exports.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2018). Paris Agreement – Status of Ratification.

World Bank. (2014). Renewable Electricity output.

Climate Funds Update. (2017). CFU Data.