Climate change driving huge surge in natural disasters, UN finds
Experts warn that climate change will make the world a more inhospitable place to live, and we may be further along in that journey than we realized, a new report from the UN has revealed. The frequency of natural disasters over the past two decades is almost double that of the 1980-1999 period, the organization says, with extreme weather events driven by climate change accounting for a large portion of the uptick.
The report titled The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 takes stock of major disasters to strike the human race since the turn of the century. These events are defined as having killed 10 or more people, affected 100 people or more, triggered a state of emergency or a call for international assistance.
Over that two-decade period, there were 7,348 major disaster events recorded, which claimed 1.23 million lives and affected some 4.2 billion people, at a cost of US$2.97 trillion in global economic losses. This is a dramatic increase on the 1980-1999 period, in which 4,212 disaster events were recorded, claiming approximately 1.19 million lives and affecting 3.25 billion people. This came at a cost of US$1.63 trillion globally.
"More lives are being saved but more people are being affected by the expanding climate emergency," says Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. "Disaster risk is becoming systemic with one event overlapping and influencing another in ways that are testing our resilience to the limit. The odds are being stacked against us when we fail to act on science and early warnings to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction."
Climate-related extreme weather events account for a large amount of both tallies, according to the report, with 3,656 for the 1980-1999 period and 6,681 for the 2000-2019 period. Major floods have more than doubled across that period to number 3,254, while storms increased from 1,457 to 2,034.
Other major increases were seen in the frequency of drought, wildfires and extreme temperature events. When it comes to the reasons for this dramatic increase in extreme weather events, the authors have little doubt about where the blame lies, noting that the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 °C (1.98 °F) above the pre-industrial period.
“If this level of growth in extreme weather events continues over the next twenty years, the future of mankind looks very bleak indeed,” says Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir from Beligum’s University of Louvain, one of the authors of the report. “We will have to live with the consequences of existing levels of climate change for a long time to come and there are many practical measures that can be taken to reduce the burden of disaster losses especially on low and middle-income countries that lack resources and are most exposed to economic losses on a scale that undermines their efforts to eradicate poverty and to provide good quality social services including health and education.”
The full report is available here.