If there has ever been a finding that exemplifies the need for additional investments in weather resiliency and adaptation measures, the United Nations put it forth this week.
Over the past 20 years, 90% of major disasters have been caused by weather, and the United States was the hardest-hit country, according to a new U.N. report.
Worldwide, there have been 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heat waves, droughts and other weather-related events since 1995. More than 600,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of those disasters, according to the report compiled by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
“Weather and climate are major drivers of disaster risk, and this report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives lost. Economic losses are a major development challenge for many of the least developed countries battling climate change and poverty,” said Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR.
Economic losses – including earthquakes and tsunamis – are between $250 billion and $300 billion annually, the report estimated. The five countries with the highest number of disasters are the U.S., China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The report was released as officials from 196 nations are set to convene outside Paris on Monday for 12 days of negotiations in the hopes of finally reaching an agreement on a worldwide plan to combat global warming.
Hopefully, the U.N.’s recent findings will highlight the need for a resolution and prove valuable fodder for negotiations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for causing the planet to warm.
Left unchecked, computer simulations predict global warming will cripple the planet with extreme weather, rising sea levels, worse air quality, threats to many plant and animal species and more. While no single weather event can be directly linked to the rise in temperature, we’re already starting to see some of those dire predictions throughout the world.
Heat waves accounted for 148,000 of the 164,000 lives lost due to extreme temperatures since 1995, with 92% of those of deaths occurring in high-income countries, according to the U.N. report. Human-caused global warming has already increased the likelihood and intensity of heat waves across the world, according to various studies, and scientists have predicted that will only increase in the future.
On average, there were 335 weather-related disasters worldwide each year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from the 1995 to 2004 period, and almost twice the level recorded between 1985 and 1995, according to the U.N.
Nearly half (47%) of all disasters were floods, which affected 2.3 billion people and killed 157,000. But they weren’t the deadliest — storms were, resulting in 242,000 deaths, or 40% of all weather-related deaths. Almost 90% of these deaths occurred in lower-income countries.
While the worst drought in recorded history plagues the U.S. Southwest, excessive dry conditions affect Africa the most. The continent has experienced 136 droughts there between 1995 and 2015, including 77 in East Africa alone.
The U.S. has seen 472 weather-related disasters over the past 20 years. They are hitting home with more power and producing losses that are more staggering than previously understood.
“Economic losses from weather-related disasters are much higher than the recorded figure of $1.891 trillion,” the U.N. report states. “Only 35% of records include information about economic losses.”
A new climate accord can’t come soon enough. Perhaps Paris will surge once again into the headlines with news less tragic and more hopeful for our future.
There has been too much human cost.
Thomas M. Kostigen is the founder of The Climate Survivalist.com and a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He is the National Geographic author of “The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover” and the NG Kids book, “Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Hailstorms, Thundersnow, Hurricanes and More!” Follow him @weathersurvival, or email email@example.com.
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