climate change

UN: extreme weather is becoming more frequent and costly

Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans in 2005. Photo credit: AP Photo / Phil Coale.

By Anders Lorenzen

This year the world has had front row seats to the climate crisis with one extreme weather event after another. The UN body, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has said that the number of weather disasters driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years. The disasters have killed more than two million people and have cost an astounding $3.64 trillion in total losses.

Most comprehensive review

The WMO has released its ‘Atlas’ which they say is the most comprehensive review of mortality as well as economic loss from weather, water and climate extremes ever produced. They surveyed 11,000 disasters that occurred between 1970-2019. One of those events is the 1983 drought in Ethiopia which is the single most fatal event causing 300,000 deaths, and Hurricane Katrina in the US which was the costliest, at $163.6 billion. And just days before it was released, the US was struck by the Category 4 Hurricane Ida which experts and scientists have already agreed was made much worse by climate change.

Commenting on the report, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said: “Thanks to our early warning service improvement we have been able to have a decrease of the casualties at these kinds of events, but the bad news is that the economic losses have been growing very rapidly and this growth is supposed to continue. We are going to see more climatic extreme because of climate change and this negative trend in climate will continue for the coming decades.”

Fivefold increase

The report also showed a trend in relation to the frequency of disasters which have increased nearly fivefold from the 1970s to the most recent decade, demonstrating that as our planet continues to warm extreme weather events are becoming more frequent underlining the link between those two things. Also, costs are surging from $175.4 billion in the 1970s to $1.38 trillion in the 2010s – the decade where the major hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma ripped through the US.

But with a glimmer of good news, the report showed that even though events are more costly and frequent, the annual death toll has fallen from 50,000 in the 1970s to around 18,000 in the 2010s.  This shows that countries have become better at adapting to as well as warning about extreme weather events.

WMO hope that its report, which gives a detailed regional breakdown, will be used by governments to form policies to better protect their citizens.

However, the WMO also pointed out there is room for improvement, as more than 91% of the two million deaths occurred in developing countries. It noted that only half of the WMO’s 193 members have multi-hazard early warning systems and added there are ‘severe gaps’ in weather observations, especially in African countries, which were undermining the accuracy of early warning systems.

As a result, the WMO hopes that developed countries will use the report to offer assistance to developing countries.

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