Notre Dame to be new home of climate change index

Author: South Bend Tribune

Read the original article online. 




SOUTH BEND -- The University of Notre Dame will become the new home base of the Global Adaptation Index, a tool showing which countries are best prepared to deal with droughts, storms and other natural disasters that may be caused by climate change.

Known as GAIN, the index ranks countries annually based on how vulnerable they are to climate change and how prepared they are to adapt. For details, visit:

The move was scheduled to be announced at a news conference at noon today in Washington, D.C.

The founders were looking to take the index to a new level and wanted a university partner, said Jessica Hellmann, a Notre Dame biological sciences professor who specializes in the study of climate and directs the university's Environmental Change Initiative's Climate Adaptation Program.

Notre Dame researchers have the knowledge and expertise to run and improve the index, Hellmann said.

"It's going to be a two-way street. We'll be using our research to enhance the index, and we'll also use the index to enhance our research," Hellmann said.

The GAIN Index summarizes a country's vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges combined with its readiness to improve resilience. It's intended to help businesses and the public sector prioritize investments in order to respond to such challenges. Data on the site goes back to 1995.

The index has been based at the Global Adaptation Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

From now on, the index will be known as ND-GAIN. It is an open-source tool that analyzes a number of sectors to make its calculations, including water, infrastructure, coastal protection, agriculture and energy.

GAIN is being given to Notre Dame by the Global Adaptation Institute with the support of its primary founding sponsor, NGP Energy Capital Management, an investment fund based in Irving, Texas.

"GAIN highlights those countries that urgently need help adapting to a warmer world," NGP's chief executive officer and founder, Ken Hersh, said in a written statement. "We are thrilled about our new partnership with Notre Dame and its ability to help us take GAIN to the next level."

The gift includes a $2 million donation from the Natural Gas Partners Foundation.

Notre Dame researchers will make the index more detailed by ranking the vulnerability of states within some countries, as well as continuing to rank countries themselves, Hellmann said.

Different states have different vulnerabilities when it comes to the impact of climate, she said, citingHurricane Sandy's impact last fall on the East Coast as one example.

Faculty working on ND-GAIN will include Hellmann; David Lodge, director of the Environmental Change Initiative; and Nitesh Chawla, a Big Data scientist and director of the university's Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science & Applications.

In addition, dozens of other Notre Dame faculty are expected to be engaged at times in research related to the index, Hellmann said.

Notre Dame last week hosted a three-day international conference of scientists and researchers who study climate change.

The index's move to South Bend also will mean some new jobs here. One key scientist from the previous site in Washington will join Notre Dame, and the university is planning to hire a programmer and an adaptation scientist to work on the index, Hellmann said.

The index shows that Denmark, Switzerland and Australia are the No. 1, 2 and 3 countries in the world in terms of projected ability to handle and adjust to climate change challenges. The U.S. ranks No. 15.

At the bottom of the index is North Korea, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo second to last, and Iraq just above it.

ND-GAIN will award prizes to results-oriented demonstration projects during an ND-GAIN annual meeting. Winners will be selected on criteria such as effectiveness, impact, marketability and relevance to the index. The awards are designed to spark sustainable change and present innovative solutions to adaptation challenges around the world.

The fact that Notre Dame was chosen as the site for the index shows that the university is an important player in an important subject area, Hellmann said. "And it demonstrates Notre Dame's commitment to improving people's lives," she said.
Follow me @mfosmoe 
Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: 574-235-6329