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Study: Finland and Iceland have benefited most from climate change so far

Warming has expanded the gap between the world's rich and poor, with northern nations benefiting most, says a new study.

suomalainen järvimaisema ilmasta kuvattuna
Finland's 188,000 lakes may be a sought-after resource in the future. Image: Getty Images

Finland is one of the few countries to benefit economically from climate change in recent decades, according to a Stanford University study published by the US National Academy of Sciences in its prestigious journal, PNAS.

Comparing a half-century of historical temperature fluctuations and economic growth, researchers found that warming has led to "robust and substantial declines in economic output in hotter, poorer countries—and increases in many cooler, wealthier countries—relative to a world without anthropogenic warming".

Nearly 50% GDP growth linked to climate

Between 1961 and 2010, researchers say, Iceland's GDP grew by 92 percent in relation to climate change, while Finland's grew by 48 percent and Norway's by 34 percent. Other main beneficiaries have been Canada, Sweden and Russia.

On the other hand, the report suggests that India's economy would be one third larger if not for the effects of climate change.

According to the report, "the primary driver is the parabolic relationship between temperature and economic growth, with warming increasing growth in cool countries and decreasing growth in warm countries".

The report's authors add that their results show that, "in addition to not sharing equally in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption".

Marita Laukkanen, chief researcher at Finland's VATT Institute for Economic Research, says she finds the results convincing, but does not see them as reason for Finland to celebrate.

"We do not know and cannot completely predict what events or chains of events climate change will trigger," Laukkanen tells Yle. She notes that climate change may increase the number of refugees and weaken forest growth, for instance.

Researchers note that drought is playing an increasing role in migration and unrest, such as in Libya's 2011 revolution and civil war.

"We're not all in the same boat"

According to the report, "the primary driver is the parabolic relationship between temperature and economic growth, with warming increasing growth in cool countries and decreasing growth in warm countries".

The report's authors add that their results show that, "in addition to not sharing equally in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption".

"The study shows simply and directly that we're not all in the same boat. The situation has built up historically and some countries are clearly more responsible for this while others have suffered from this and will continue to suffer in the future," says Tero Toivanen of the University of Helsinki's BIOS Research Unit, which focuses on socio-ecological development issues.

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