Myth 2 Industrialized nations will be spared major impacts

Many people have the impression that developed nations will not experience serious climate change impacts. In fact, the opposite is likely. The United States, southern Europe, and Australia are likely to be among the most physically impacted regions. By virtue of its large size and varied geography, the United States already experiences a wide range of severe climate-related impacts, including droughts, heat waves, flash floods, and hurricanes, all of which have been or are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.3 For instance, from 1980 to 2000 the United States was among the countries experiencing large numbers of deaths from exposure to tropical storms (figure 3-2).

According to the IPCC, the western United States, southern Europe, and southern Australia will experience progressively more severe and persistent droughts, heat waves, and wildfires in future decades as a result of climate change.4 In 2003 central and southern Europe experienced a prolonged heat wave that was the most severe in at least 500 years and led to the premature deaths of 50,000, mostly elderly people.5 Model projections suggest this type of heat event will become typical for the region by 2040 as a result of the current global warming trend.6 The United States, with the largest number of coastal cities and two agricultural river deltas near or below sea level, is one of the most susceptible countries to future sea level rise. The United States and coastal countries of the European Union are likely to experience some of the greatest losses of coastal wetlands.7

The misapprehension that climate change impacts will spare the industrialized world may stem from confusion between the concepts of impact and vulnerability. Vulnerability measures the ability of a population to withstand impact, but low vulnerability does not imply low impact. Because it possesses greater infrastructure and wealth, the United States may be more capable of devoting resources to preparing for, adapting to, and recovering from climate change impacts than developing countries with similar exposure. Because it will be severely impacted, the United States will need to divert great financial


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